Wednesday, April 18, 2012

That's a Wrap!

I am back home from my adventures in Los Angeles. I spent the final few days with Katie picking out a couch and bar stools, setting up a bank account, lining up insurance, and shopping for the necessary items she will need to get by until her stuff can be shipped to her. She was also busy making contacts and lining up interviews. In a lot of ways it does not seem real that she is staying out there permanently. She has traveled so much during the past year that it felt to me like a temporary stop on the road we call life. The song "Wide Open Spaces" came on my iPod while I was with her, and I thought the lyrics were so poignant of my feelings.

Who doesn't know what I'm talking about
Who's never left home, who's never struck out
To find a dream and a life of their own
A place in the clouds, a foundation of stone

Many precede and many will follow

A young girl's dream no longer hollow
It takes the shape of a place out west
But what it holds for her, she hasn't yet guessed

She needs wide open spaces

Room to make her big mistakes
She needs new faces
She knows the high stakes 

I decided to book a flight to head home on Sunday. I went back and forth as I had heard the weather forecast in St. Louis. But I had only reserved my hotel room through Saturday night. I probably could have added another day, but quite frankly after 11 days I was ready to head home to Jim and my own bed. My flight was scheduled to leave at 12:25, so Katie dropped me off at the airport about 10:20. I checked my bag and printed out my boarding pass. My first clue to potential problems should have been that I wasn't charged for the bag. I attributed that to the fact that I booked my flight so late and paid an obscene price for it. The second clue was my boarding time, but I didn't even notice that. I just looked at the boarding pass long enough to ensure that it was Flight 818 to St. Louis. My bad!

About an hour went by before I checked my boarding pass again, and then I freaked out when it said that boarding was to begin at 3:40, with the flight departing at 4:10. Holy crap! I ran to check one of the boards, and sure enough the flight was delayed. After speaking with an American representative I found that due to bad weather in St. Louis on Saturday, many flights had been cancelled and it was balling everything up on Sunday. Bad weather on Sunday added to the problems, especially since the Midwest, Dallas and Chicago were all experiencing delays. Darn it! I should have gone with my gut and booked for Monday.

So I hung out at the airport all day, and mid-afternoon my flight disappeared from the board altogether. The American rep assured me it was because they had no room on the board and bumped our flight to add a different one on. Liar, liar, pants on fire. When I asked later, I was told that the gate had changed. When I went to the new gate, there was no mention of Flight 818 on the screen at the gate. I had to check with other passengers to make sure I was in the right place. Finally they 'fessed up that there was a mechanical problem with our plane, but they thought it could be fixed. The woman next to me said they were told the exact same story on Saturday. She was supposed to fly to St. Louis at 8:15 Saturday morning. They fed the passengers b.s. about delays, then a maintenance problem, then the fact that they thought they had a different plane to put them on, until finally at 9:00 Saturday night they told them they weren't going anywhere and put them on the Sunday 12:25 flight. So when the gate attendant said our plane could not be repaired but they thought they could get another plane for us, we did not hold out a lot of hope.

We finally began our taxi down the runway at around 7:00. We got a free snack on the plane, but only if you were smart enough to ask for it. They weren't offering, that's for sure. We arrived in St. Louis at 12:40 a.m. Poor Jim had to stay up to come and get me, and he had been on a challenging motorcycle trip all weekend. Next time I will listen to my gut.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Place to Call Home

We signed a lease on an apartment today. Woo, hoo! We went back to take a second look at the loft apartment. While it has some things that were not as nice as the first complex we looked at, the amount of space in the unit, the location of the apartment in the back of the complex, and the view simply outweigh the negatives. As it still needs to be cleaned up we went ahead and committed to it so that management will put a priority on getting it ready for occupancy. Katie can move in on Saturday. It seems funny to say "move in" when really all she has out here is one suitcase of clothes and a couple of bags of miscellaneous items. Should make the process pretty painless! Here is a picture of the interior before they had finished the cleaning process.

We did need to go pick out a bed because with the loft set up she can actually finally have a real bed. In the past at home as well as in Chicago she has used a trundle bed. That is one less big item we will need to ship from St. Louis. The bed will be delivered on Saturday afternoon. We also had to make arrangements for a refrigerator since the apartment did not come with one. I have to say that is the one thing that really didn't sit well with me. What kind of apartment doesn't provide a refrigerator? And what do you do with it when you move out? We decided to rent one for the time being, but it won't be delivered until Monday. The power will be turned on Friday, so that is helpful. The last item is to get the Internet set up with AT&T, which we should be able to handle tomorrow. We are feeling pretty good about where we're at right now.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Apartment Hunters

Today we spent most of our time looking at apartments. At the first apartment complex we had an exceptionally nice man who showed us around the grounds. This place has four open studio apartments right now, so we got to see a variety. They were all the same in terms of layout, but definitely had different feels to them. The first one was on the ground level but a little below grade, so the window looked out into the window well. Granted it had plants in it, but it gave the unit a bit of a claustrophic feel. The second one was on the third floor and had a nice view of the hills. The only problem was that you have to look through a bunch of thick electrical wires to see them. It had much better lighting than the first apartment. The third unit had a patio, and I use the term loosely. You had the main door to enter the apartment, and then a second door (French style but a single door instead of double) that opened onto the patio. You could put a door mat on it, and that was about it. Definitely no patio furniture. It was also on the first floor. The fourth apartment, again on the first floor, actually had the main door and next to it a sliding patio door which opened onto a concrete patio, albeit a smallish one. They had one additional unit that is being renovated, which he also showed us. We didn't feel that for the additional money the few upgrades were worth the extra monthly rent.

We felt like we were on House Hunters. What, you call that a patio? Where are the stainless appliances? What about hardwood floors? Granite countertops? It was kind of funny. The second apartment building we looked at was right next door to the first, which was great since driving is a bear here and parking is next to impossible to find. This complex has only a one bedroom unit available and a loft unit. We quickly dismissed the one bedroom due to its location looking out over multiple units with tons of kids toys on the patios. But the loft unit...oh my goodness. It was nearly 200 square feet larger than the studios we looked at in the other complex. The windows look out again to the hills sans all the wires. It is in the back of the complex and the mounted police have their stables next door so you can see the horses. (Didn't smell them however, which is great.) The rent is comparable to the studios, but it feels so much more spacious. So this seems like a no brainer, right? Well, no utilities are included and it doesn't come with a refrigerator! What!

So we have made our list of pros and cons and don't have a clear winner. We will see a different complex Wednesday morning. It is more expensive, but it is a true one bedroom and has all the upgrades in it. It is also only ten minutes from Katie's potential employer, which is amazing.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Driving Miss Katie, Day 4

Yesterday was the final day of long distance driving - hallelujah! The scenery has not been as interesting as I had anticipated it would be. There were a few areas that had some great rock formations and/or mountains, but for the most part we might as well have been driving through Kansas. But with less vegetation. The exits on Interstatw 40 are few and far between, so you really need to plan your gas and potty breaks. I can't even imagine trying to make the drive with small children. And the interstate is in terrible shape, in all the states we traveled through. I won't complain about the highway conditions in Missouri again.

Around noon we began looking for a place to eat. We finally saw an exit with a Dairy Queen, so I pulled off. Everyone else had the same idea, and the parking lot was packed! Plus gas at the nearby station (the only two things at this exit) was $4.89 per gallon! It is not even that high here in LA. Fortunately I didn't need to fuel up. Everywhere else we had paid $3.69 or $3.79, with the exception of $3.99 in Sedona where they were ripping off the tourists. Anyway, we decided to try to find food elsewhere, and drove another 60 miles before finding a town with some fast food restaurants.

When we were about 70 miles from LA the traffic picked up quite a bit. By the time we got on Highway 101 it was like rush hour in St. Louis. And this was a Saturday. I cannot imagine what it is like on a weekday. We finally got off on Sunset Boulevard and crept our way to the Comfort Inn. Pulling into their lot I quickly noticed three things - the motel rooms open to the exterior of the building (which I try to avoid for safety reasons), this was not a "secure" parking lot as I had been led to believe, and if the people hanging out in the lot were any indication of the area and people staying here, I don't want a room here. After consulting the Internet we realized that their are two Comfort Inns on Sunset. Who would have thunk it? That was the good news. The bad news was that we now had to turn around and go back through all the crappy traffic again to get to the correct hotel. Ugh!

But we finally made it and checked in with no problem. We do have a secure parking garage here, which is great. The Internet does not work in our room and our room faces Sunset, which is very noisy. So we will attempt to move to a room closer to the center of the hotel, and one that is not on Sunset. Since it is Sunday I imagine a number of people will be checking out today, so hopefully it won't be an issue.

Today we are going to look at apartments. Even if the offices are closed for Easter we figured we can get the lay of the land and perhaps find some that aren't listed on It should be an interesting day.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Driving Miss Katie, Day 3

We left Albuquerque around 9:00 this morning heading towards Flagstaff, Arizona. Originally we had intended to go to the Grand Canyon, but logistics got in the way. There were time constraints, for one. And when we called to see if we could get reservations at one of the lodges within the national park, we were told that there was only one room left at a lodge about a half mile from the rim. Most of the other lodges are right on the rim. The lack of rooms got us thinking about crowds, and a google search provided reviews of people saying that the park was packed. Of course - it is Easter week! We also don't like to be too far from the car as we have a lot of Katie's personal items in it.

So we regrouped and decided to go to Sedona instead. Oak Creek Canyon, on the way from Flagstaff to Sedona, comes highly recommended as a scenic route, and Sedona is supposed to be nice to visit. I thought we would fill up the gas tank in Flagstaff, where you turn off to head south. But that particular exit had no stations or places to eat. Do you know that there are no stations on the canyon drive? I will definitely be alerting others to that fact on Tripadvisor. We coasted into Sedona on fumes! Besides the twisting, steep, drop off the edge of the earth road, fear of running out of gas had me gripping the steering wheel the whole way. Luckily it is downhill to Sedona, so I was able to coast most of the way.

The scenery was quite beautiful, and Sedona is in a fantastic location. But the town itself reminded me of Branson with round abouts. There were tourists everywhere and the traffic was horrific. We only stopped in town long enough to gas up and grab a sandwich. After getting our fill of photographs in the national forest, we headed back north to Flagstaff and trusty Interstate 40. So weird that you only take two interstates (44 & 40) all the way from St. Louis to Los Angeles. We wanted to put some more miles behind us so that we wouldn't be facing 7 plus hours of driving tomorrow, so we drove on to Kingman, Arizona to spend the night. We should have about 320 more miles to go tomorrow. That is easy compared to what we have been doing. The end is in sight!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Driving Miss Katie, Day 2

We left Oklahoma City about 9:30 this morning. The biggest difference I see between this trip and ones I take with Jim is timing. He and I wake up so early that we would have been on the road no later than 8:00. But I have decided not to let the later start bother me. Just outside of Amarillo, TX is the Cadillac Ranch. Ten Cadillacs have been buried nose down in a field. It is not only allowed but encouraged for you to spray paint graffiti on the cars. So they never look the same for very long. We took a short detour off I-40 to see the Cadillacs. Unfortunately there were three school buses and numerous other vehicles parked at the ranch entrance. It made it difficult to take photos, but it was a fun stop.

We traveled to Albuquerque, NM today. It was a fairly boring drive like yesterday, until we arrived here and you could see the mountains. Hopefully the rest of the trip will be more scenic. We were going to go to the Grand Canyon tomorrow, but Katie is a little concerned about leaving her stuff in the car. Even if we got a motel room in the park, the timing is off a little. It is about 6 hours to the park from here so we wouldn't arrive there until mid afternoon. Then we still have 7 and a half hours from the park to Los Angeles on Saturday. So I think instead we will drive down to Sedona and do a cavern drive there before continuing west. I'd like to only have around 5 hours of driving left to do on Saturday if possible. We'll see how that works out.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Driving Miss Katie, Day 1

We got a little bit later start today than I would have liked, but we still made it to my goal location of Oklahoma City while it was light out. I wanted to be able to go to the Oklahoma City National Memorial and take some photos. You will probably remember the bombing that took place at the federal building here on April 19, 1995. Twin gates mark the entrances to the memorial grounds, with a reflecting pool between them. Off to the side of the pool are 168 chairs, representing the lives ended on that day. Included are 19 smaller chairs for the children who died. It is a beautiful memorial to a tragic event that affected so many in this area.

We decided to spend the night here in Oklahoma, but I did at least continue on to the west side of town so hopefully we won't be dealing with much traffic in the morning. Now I just need to look at the route and see where we want to end up tomorrow.

So far so good with the trip - we had a little rain on the drive but mostly the overcast day allowed us to go without the air conditioner, which definitely helps with the gas mileage. Speaking of gas, we haven't paid above $3.69.9 yet. I know that will change when we hit California, but for now I will enjoy the savings.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Motherhood: It's Not Just a Job, It's an Adventure Part 2

So the summer after Andy's sophomore year of college he got an internship with a different company working on a highway project down in Florida. So again we loaded all of his necessities for a summer away into the car, this time heading south. We stopped outside of Atlanta to spend the night, having secured a reservation ahead of time at the motel. We checked in with a clerk who barely spoke English, and who didn't really address us at all because he was busy talking to a couple of shady characters. When we backed the car up to the door of our room, said shady characters appeared by our car and started asking all kinds of questions about why we were there. Already feeling uneasy about our stay, we immediately decided to find a different motel as we firmly believed Andy's belongings would no longer be in the car come morning. We drove to the south side of Atlanta, which was probably smart as we would not have to deal with rush hour traffic in the morning.

I had reserved a nice one bedroom condo right on the water for us to stay in while we searched for an apartment for him. It was great to be able to have the kitchen so we did not have to eat all of our meals out. This time I had some apartments lined up ahead of time for us to go look at, since he was in a major metropolitan area and this was actually an option. He ended up selecting the one that was on a peninsula near St. Petersburg, which meant crossing a loooong bridge every day. But I have to say the area was much cooler with the ocean breezes, and it was not as congested as Tampa. The bridge didn't end up causing him too much trouble as his hours were such that he was rarely in rush hour.

Because he was in such a great place, Katie and I flew down to spend a week in July. She and I had a two bedroom condo on the beach at Madeira, and it was awesome. Well, except for the hurricane that came through. I had to lower the hurricane shutters and the whole nine yards. We did not end up having to evacuate, which was great. But it was a scary experience nonetheless. Andy had to work every day, but he spent each evening with us so it worked out pretty well. Katie and I even managed a visit to Busch Gardens, which we felt was a bit over-rated.

This time when Andy was ready to come home, he suggested that I pay for a plane ticket for his girlfriend, Megan, to fly down and help him drive back. Worked for me - I was going to have to buy a ticket for myself anyway. So Megan flew down and they were able to spend a little time together before driving back, and he dropped her off at her home in Indiana before coming back to St. Louis.

The only down side of this internship was that the apartment owner claimed that Andy had "ruined" the brand new (not!) couch cushions, saying they were all out of shape and wouldn't fit the cane frame anymore. So they refused to give us back the deposit. Since he was already back in St. Louis when they made this claim, there wasn't too much we could do about it. Whatever...

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Motherhood: It's Not Just a Job, It's an Adventure

In just a few days I will be embarking on a 1,900 mile trip with Katie as I help her take the car out to Los Angeles. Somehow, I think it will be more Driving Miss Katie than anything, but that is okay as I like to drive. I'm sure the trip will make for good blogging material. I was not yet blogging when I had my many adventures with Andy, so I think I'll recap them here.

The summer after his freshman year at Purdue he secured an internship with a company working on a bridge project in New Town, North Dakota. His major, construction engineering management, required internships each summer, and the school helped to set them up. The companies that the kids worked for were supposed to help with housing - as in helping them find housing and a stipend to help with the rent. There was no way I was going to let my 19 year old drive 1,200 miles by himself so I decided to make the drive with him. We also traded in his used car, which had over 125,000 miles on it, for a "newer" used car with far fewer miles on it. After being assured all was in good working order with the car and that the tires were fine (2 were new), we headed off on our journey.

About 45 miles south of Fargo one of the fine tires blew out. After 40 years of driving, this is the first time I have ever had a flat. So we are on an Interstate where the legal speed limit is 80 pulled over on the shoulder to change the tire. Everything that Andy was taking for an entire summer was piled on top of the well where the spare was stored. Many people honked and waved as they flew by us on the highway, but no one stopped to help. After fighting with the jack for a bit, the bad tire was removed, the donut put on, and the car reloaded. Now we were traveling 45 miles per hour (maximum speed for the donut) on a roadway filled with people going a minimum of 80. I'm sure I was viewed as the stupid old lady driver. That was the longest 45 miles of my life.

Luckily Fargo has a mall with a Sears store, so we were able to replace the tires (two since they are high performance tires and they don't recommend changing out only one), and a couple of hours later we were back on our way. As we pulled into New Town (population 1,500), we looked around in dismay. I promptly renamed it No Town. The main road was dismal - a few motels, a couple of local restaurants, a laundromat, a gas station. That was about it. There were no fast food restaurants, no bowling alley, no movie theater - heck I didn't even see a grocery store. What in the world was my son supposed to do for three months? At that point I doubted that he would even be able to get cable or, more importantly, the Internet.

We drove directly to the job trailer so that Andy could let them know he was in town and to seek assistance with the housing. Well, we got no help there. They told us to check with the motels we had passed on the way in. We quickly learned that the entire area was an Indian reservation, including the job site which was construction of Four Bears Bridge over Lake Sakakawea. We stayed at the casino hotel and spent the next day looking for a place for Andy to stay. There was nothing! One of the motels said they could rent to him by the week for part of the summer, but not during tourist season. Tourist season, I'm thinking? Why in the world would any tourists stay in No Town? Well, as it ends up there is a big fishing tournament in July that apparently attracts a "crowd". Andy began work the next day and I attempted to locate a room or something for him. I called Jim and said that if Andy came home from work that day and hated it, we were coming home and screw the internship in No Town.

He loved his first day, and was very excited to be working on a mile long bridge. So the next morning I dropped him off at work and headed 70 miles northeast to Minot, North Dakota. Now here was a town! Shopping mall, movie theaters, restaurants, grocery name it. I hooked up with a realtor (originally from Poplar Bluff, MO, believe it or not) and she showed me a fully furnished efficiency apartment available for the summer. The regular tenant was a college professor who was going away for the summer. Perfect! It was too bad that Andy would have that kind of drive every day, but other than that it worked out great. So we got him settled in and I flew back home.

In August I flew back to Minot and we loaded Andy's stuff back into the car and headed for home. We had another car problem on the way back. When we stopped at a hotel for the night, I left Andy in the car under the front portico while I checked in. I guess it was taking a while, because he followed me in. Unfortunately he locked the doors when he got out, and I had left the keys in the ignition because he was still in the car. We could not get a locksmith to come out that late at night, so we went to bed in the clothes we had been in all day. At least the car was in a location for the front desk to keep an eye on it all night. I had visions of someone stealing it since the keys were there.

The next morning the locksmith came and we were able to get a change of clothes and our toothbrushes so we could tidy up before heading out again. We made it home without further incidence, but that was just internship number one.