Friday, July 29, 2016

In her shoes

“You don’t have enough points, sir.”

The day had started out terribly. I woke up with a hangover. I had been late for work.

“Wait. What?” I said. “Where am I?”

The last memory I had was of tripping on my roommate’s shoes at the top of the stairs. Nothing around me looked familiar. Who was this man in front of me?

“Sir? You’ll have to step out of line.”

A long line of people stretched behind me. Most had slightly stunned looks on their faces. Others looked relieved.

I noticed the floor had a misty quality. Was I standing on a cloud? Were those gates? Did that guy have wings?

“No worries, sir. Nigel will help you.”

A short, plump man with glasses and a warm smile waved me over. He definitely had wings.

He put his arm around my shoulder and gave me a light squeeze that filled me with comfort.

“Ah, Charles, welcome. Let’s go into my office.”

He gestured to sit.

“Charles, do you know where you are?”

“Heaven?” I felt ridiculous saying it.

“Well, you’re close. This is heaven’s gate. As you may have guessed, you need a certain number of points to get in. I’m afraid you’re a little short.”

I stiffened up. “How short?”

“About 25 million points off the mark. We’re seeing you a few years earlier than we expected, but let’s take a look at your record.”

He pulled out a huge binder.

“Your actions in life were pretty normal. Some naughtiness in high school. A bit of fun in university. All very human.” He looked up at me and giggled. “We don’t actually care about anything related to consensual sex.”

“Ah, I see the problem.” I did a quick inventory of my moral failings, but before I could finish, he turned the book to me and pointed to a section titled “Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.” My heart sank.

“It seems you were a bit of a troll.” I groaned at my stupidity. It was only meant to be a joke. He read out my record.

“You commented on more than 2700 videos. You called the girls and women in the videos fat and ugly.” He looked up to see my reaction.

I never thought anyone would connect those comments to me.

“You seem to enjoy tweeting to female politicians using the account ‘@punchinthehead.’ Let me read this one.” He paused and blushed and looked over his glasses at me. “Never mind.”

I shrank down in my seat.

“You called refugees terrorists? At least you used your own name for that one.”

Nigel took a moment to compose his thoughts. I felt ashamed. He reached over and took my hand.

“Ah Charles, these aren’t the worst offenses I’ve ever seen.” He motioned out to the line. “In fact, most of those people don’t have enough points to get in.”

He released my hand and pulled out another book called “Available Lives.” He searched each page and stopped and kept his finger on an entry he liked.

“Your soul is young and has a lot to learn. Don’t despair. That was only your second life.” He patted my hand again. “It took me 30 lives to finally get in and another 50 to get this job. I made mistakes in every one of them. Some were short. Some were long. Each life taught me something new.”

His words made me calm.

“So, we’re sending you back. But not as Charles.” I was relieved to cast that old life off. “I’m tempted to send you back as a refugee; however, the majority of your offenses were against women. So you’re going back as one. See what you can learn by walking a lifetime in a woman’s shoes.”

He handed me a card with the name Lisa Styles and the picture of the plain young woman I was destined to become. “Take this to Cassandra; she’ll be your guide. You won’t remember your past lives...”

“Until I’m ready to start my next,” I finished his sentence. Just then the memory of my first life came back to me. Everything made sense.


“Ok,” I said. “I’m ready.”

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Camping!

This is why I love to camp. One of my favourite spots.
I love camping. This seems to surprise people. Co-workers greeted my plans with a mix of skepticism and horror. Should I take that as a judgment of my presumed camping abilities? Perhaps I will take it as a sign that I am always so well put together that no one could ever imagine me without a straightening iron.

Before this trip, we had taken a 15-year hiatus from camping. This break was born out of pure laziness. We would often take a day to canoe from one of the more remote access points on the west side of Algonquin Park or take drives up old logging and camp roads in an attempt to see wildlife. But my in-laws have a cottage in Muskoka. There was no need to sleep in a tent. That's just silly.

This year the cottage needed to be closed early and I had a yen for wilderness. So we packed up our gear and headed to the forest. The prep brought back a lot of great memories. I never camped as a kid. Italians don't do that. We'd get up at the crack of dawn to go tomato picking and for the Pisticci Club picnic, but not camping. My first camping trip came when I was 26 years old.

Wildlife!
I don't know why exactly it happened, but Dave and I became obsessed with seeing moose. I craved it. We would get up at 5 AM to hike to a remote spot in hopes of a sighting. Often we were successful. We have lots of really bad moose pictures.

I really was excited to revisit my favourite haunts. In hopes of catching a Thursday night Wolf Howl, we decided to forgo interior camping and camp in the wilderness setting of a really developed campsite on the highway 60 corridor of Algonquin Park. But there was a sign posted at the campground kiosk warning of bears in the area. I was hopeful.

We learned a few things on this trip. Tips and nuances that will so come in handy when planning future camping trips, such as:
  • When a campsite is rated as "average", it means "not good".
  • "Radio free" and "dog free" campgrounds attract families with a million children each. All under the age of 3. All of whom are parented by people who don't care if their spawn are eaten by a bear.
  • The wolves never howl. It is a ruse to get you to the park. It is always canceled on the day of because "no suitable pack was found." Damned wolves. I did experience it once, and it was the most haunting sound I've ever heard.
  • Do they make craftmatic adjustable thermarests? What about pillow top versions? Is it unreasonable to bring a headboard camping?
  • You can't bring your own firewood. They are trying to keep your nasty bugs out of the park. Conveniently, you can buy wood there. Our bag o' wood must have been freshly plucked out of Pog Lake that very morning. If we had run out of water, we could have drawn water from one of the logs. Despite burning every bit of paper and cardboard box we had with us (who needed the actual cereal box anyway), that fire was not going to start that first night. It wasn't cold, so there was no need to try to dip one of the pillow cases in the gas tank to get things going. It was suggested, but we didn't do it.
  • Did you know matches can go bad? Why didn't we bring a BBQ lighter? Was that really my definition of "roughing it"?
  • When you make a helpful list of stuff to bring, and come up with great ideas for things to add, it helps to actually write those things down as you think of them. A few of them are lost forever.
  • I am far more dependent on my morning coffee than I was 15 years ago.
Despite some small bumps and a few mosquito bites along the way to reacquainting ourselves with camping, it was actually a great time. So now we're seasoned again, right? That's what I'm telling myself. The next trip will definitely be canoe camping, far away from the developed sites (and pesky humans).

Oh and, we did see a moose.



Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Back Up


Jane tried to adjust herself on the narrow gurney in the ultrasound room. She shifted to one side and then another in an awkward attempt for a few minutes of relief. A sharp kick from her unborn put to rest the notion of comfort.

Birth was no more than 8 weeks away. Jane was fairly certain they would be the longest of her life. Between the constant heartburn, having strangers rub her belly and the helpful reminders of “Holy cow, you’re as big as a house”, the charm of pregnancy had run its course.

The final step – aside from labour and delivery – was a decision about the name. It was a contentious issue made more difficult by Jane’s teenage career as a camp counselor. Every boy’s name came with baggage. The only boy name that Jane could remotely warm to was Paul, but her husband Tim wasn’t keen on using a name that just happened to be the same as her ex-boyfriend. Most conversations ran a similar course of suggestions and rejections followed by both hoping for a girl. 

But a girl would only ignite a much louder and more insistent problem. Jane’s mother, Patricia, had recently been consumed with the notion the baby should be named after her. She was convinced it was the perfect name no matter the gender. Out of the blue, she would lobby her position: “Patrick or Patricia. It’s just so perfect.” This was often followed by a look of sheer delight to convey how enamored she was with her own cleverness.

Patricia, or Trisha, as she insisted she be called, was a delight of a woman. She had the gift to make everything about her and could give lessons in guilt. For her entire life, Jane was made to believe that she was to blame for her mother’s inability to have other children with the often-repeated reminder, “It was such a difficult delivery.”

Jane found it extremely difficult to say no to her mother. Now, with the birth of the much-anticipated grandbaby approaching, the pressure was as acute as when the baby pressed on Jane’s bladder, but there was no hope of being relieved from the pressures of Patricia.

Jane’s husband Tim was a patient man. He had been caring through the vomit. He had ignored the mood swings. He worked hard to keep thoughtless or foolish comments to a minimum. But everyone has their limits. Trish was Tim’s limit.

In a na├»ve bid to avoid the final confrontation, Jane and Tim decided they would keep the baby’s gender a surprise. Through every ultrasound appointment they had promised not to ask. Each would give warning looks if the other looked like they would crack.

At this final ultrasound appointment, they were ready with their routine, but they didn’t know the room would be so quiet or the lights so low.  The technician said so little that had it not been for the occasional clicking of the mouse or the pressure of the paddle on Jane’s belly, they barely registered the her presence. Jane and Tim were lulled into as if in a dream, watching their baby on the monitor. When the technician finally spoke, the shock of her voice was almost as stunning as her words.

“She looks good. She’s in the right position. It’s just a matter of time.”

Jane and Tim stared at her slack jawed. Tim spoke first. “She?”

“Yup.” She smiled, gave some instructions that went unheard and said, “you’re good to go” as if she hadn’t just turned their world upside. She left the room and Jane and Tim in stunned silence.

On the drive home the excitement pushed its way through the shock. Jane and Tim bantered like teenagers in love offering silly and serious ideas for what they’d call their little girl. The giggles were interrupted by a call from Jane’s mother. Jane paled and her ease and laughter were whisked away. Even though Jane didn’t pick up the call, suddenly Patricia was right there in the car.

“You’re going to have to tell her. We are not naming this baby Patricia,” Tim said. Then he spat the name “Trish.”

“What about Patti,” Jane tried. Tim softened momentarily but held firm. Even Jane wasn’t buying what she was selling.

“No. Do not let her ruin this for us. You are the strongest most willful woman I know – other than your mother. Why is this even a point of discussion?”

Jane knew he was right. She resented her mother for encroaching on this moment and her own unending urge to please.

Later on that night Jane stared at the phone, wishing it had never been invented. When she did finally call her mother it was a nice conversation. They even shared excitement over the plans for the nursery. Jane felt her resolve decline. Her voice betrayed her weakness.  

“Is everything ok, dear? You sound a little off. Are you not feeling well?”

“No, no, I’m fine. The baby is fine. We had the ultrasound today. The baby is in the perfect position.” Jane hesitated. The conversation was going so well. Jane began to wrestle with the idea of revealing the baby was a girl. But then her mother started talking.

“You keep your legs crossed for another few weeks. You came early and we thought you wouldn’t live to see the light of day. Your grandmother said it was because I walked too much. Ridiculous woman.”

Grandma Betty. Jane’s love for that cantankerous old woman grew exponentially when she realized she was her way out of this drama.  If her mother was able to choose her own name, she couldn’t argue with Jane.

“Mom, why wasn’t I named after grandma?” She paused for a moment. It dawned on her that there were no other Janes in the family – not even a distant aunt. “Who am I named after?”

“No one. Your name was kind of a back up. We were going to name you Francesca. I’ve always loved that name.”

“A back up? My name was a back up?” An unpleasant clarity came to Jane. "Why didn't you use Francesca."

“Yes, dear. I told you. We thought you were going to die. I really didn’t want to bury that name.”

“What?” Jane was incredulous. “Are you saying you didn’t want to waste the name?!”

“I guess you could say that. It seemed such a shame. Anyway, speaking of names…” she was about to start her lobbying, but Jane cut her off.

“You know what, mom, you just gave me a great idea.” Rage was replaced resignation and a sudden relief. Jane smiled and lovingly rubbed her belly. “Patricia will be our back up.”

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Her lips were still moving. The Tower of London

We completely lucked out when it came to our day at the Tower of London. Kirsten and I will never win awards for being the fastest moving travellers, so we thought we'd miss the walking tour of the Tower. Run by London Walks, these tours were rumoured to be fantastic so we didn't want to miss out. Despite the fact that it took much longer on the tube then we calculated (turns out twice as many stops does not mean twice as long to get somewhere. Add another 10 minutes for good measure), luck was on our side.

Our guide, Tom, was a retired barrister. Don't ask me the difference between a barrister and a solicitor and a lawyer. That's not what this blog is about. Anyway, he was incredibly entertaining and told us so much more than if we ventured on our own.

Our tour started across from the Tower - on Tower Hill, the site of an obscene number of executions done at the top of the hill to make sure the excited masses were entertained by watching the slow death of the latest schmuck who angered the king. This was the site of beheadings - hangings were performed up the road. How entertaining was it for the crowds? Well, how gruesome shall I get here? The axes weren't always very sharp and the executioners weren't always that sober, so naturally, the aim of the ax wasn't always that accurate. Some notable people to die here, include Sir Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell and George Boleyn. Good times.

A simple memorial where so much carnage took place.
Our guide showed us where the damned would make there way into the tower by boat - through Traitors Gate. One of the first things Anne Boleyn would have seen was the addition built to celebrate her marriage to Henry. A few years later, she was imprisoned awaiting trial - and ultimately her death. Her great crime was to not produce a male heir (yes, that was Henry's fault, but they didn't know that back then and isn't it always easier to blame the woman?). She was accused of adultery (with her brother - hence his execution) and witchcraft, but really, her sin was to have a daughter. Who, by the way, became one of England's greatest rulers.

It was a time when gossip was truth. As we often see even today, you repeat something enough times, it becomes believed as the truth. Why? Because humans are stupid. And the whispers of the court were all about gaining favour and ruining not just the reputation, but the lives of others in order to get ahead.

The iconic Tower Bridge. Maybe our guide was full of the macabre because even this beautiful bridge has been the site of many very sad stories.
Only a few people died within the grounds of the Tower. It was a private affair when held behind those walls - only a few hundred, versus the tens of thousands on Tower Hill. The most famous was Anne Boleyn,who was not given a Christian burial and instead was buried in an arrow box. She was, however, allowed to hire a French swordsman to make sure her death was quick. It was said that her lips were still moving in prayer when her head was lifted to the excited crowd. Henry's other wife Catherine Howard also lost her life here. She was a foolish girl who thought that it was OK to have a lover just because her ass of a husband did.

Yes, the Tower is full of cheerful memories. Some of the other famous prisoners include Sir Walter Raleigh (he was eventually hung), Guy Fawkes and Rudolf Hess. It has always been a place of imprisonment and violence. There are 3 torture devices on display - likely the most popular of the day - the rack, the manacles where people were hung from their arms and a device that was used to basically compress someone. They were very effective at getting confessions. Who wouldn't confess to any crime when they were literally being ripped apart limb by limb? Of course George Boleyn said he slept with his sister. Confessing meant signing your own death warrant, but it was the better option.

The Tower also has an impressive display of the suits of armour, swords and military paraphernalia of the British royal houses. Not usually my cup of tea, but I'm glad I took our guide's advice to check out Henry VIII final suit of armour with its enormous backside. The cod piece displays Henry's delusion.

It's kind of fitting that the permanent residents of the Tower, aside from the ghosts, include ravens. Legend has it that if the ravens leave the Tower, the monarchy will fall. So they have a permanent home and clipped wings to make sure that does not happen.

And in the midst of this macabre and violent history is the home of the most beautiful gems of the Crown Jewels. Stunning does not begin to describe these pieces. My favourites were the Imperial Crown of India, which was created for George V to wear on his trip to India in 1911, the Saint Edwards Crown, used for Coronations and the Imperial Crown, which is worn every year for the opening of parliament. A girl could spend some happy time in amongst these jewels.



Such a beautiful place - with such a brutal history.
Despite the fact that the history of the Tower of London made me cringe and, a couple of times, the stories brought me to the verge of tears, it is one of the most fascinating spots in London and totally worth the five hours of exploring. I am thankful that the evil and darkness of the Tower's history is firmly in the past.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Bitches Be Wearing Wigs - Hampton Court

So I'm sure you're all very curious about why Kirsten and I decided to visit London. Someone was demonstrating a strong obsession love for the show the Tudors so I suggested a pilgrimage. No Tudor pilgrimage would be complete without a trip to Hampton Court where the crazy courtier life of HVIII took place.

Of course you don't show up for Henry's court looking like a shlub. That wouldn't get you through the gates. Kirsten insisted that only the straightest loveliest hair would do for Henry. I figured Henry, being dead and all, would just appreciate a woman who has, you know, skin. At first we were sure that the fact that they didn't bathe much in the 16th century would give us an edge. But then Kirsten quickly pointed out that our hair may not gain us favour with the king because the women of the those days covered their greasy hair with wigs and everyone smelled, so really, what's the difference? We soldiered on.

A view of the outside of the royal apartments
Hampton Court is gorgeous. We considered taking the boat in from London and arriving as they would have nearly 500 years ago but between the 3 hours it took (we are not early morning risers) and the damp chilly weather, it wasn't to be. It's about 30 minutes away and was a favourite of Hank because it was far enough from the various diseases raging through London.

This is another castle where the exhibits are beautifully and brilliantly set up to give you a slice of life - rather than to overwhelm you with detail.

Hampton Court was originally built by Cardinal Wolsey as a place to host the obviously pious European leaders. I think the wine fountain in the front court must have had deep religious experience. Anyway, Henry wasn't about to let this twit have a better house - so he took it. I will let you wonder what became of Wolsey's head a few years later when he failed to help Henry get a divorce from Catherine of Aragon.

We couldn't resist starting with Henry's apartments, which were set up for his wedding to his final wife Katherine Parr. She was the luckiest of them all because he died before she could displease him. Henry did walk by us and even spoke to us. But no proposal. You know it was his wedding day. Would have been a bit rude.

A few enjoyed the wet weather. The gardens were lovely but a little damp for exploration.
From Henry's apartment we toured the apartments of Mary II. Instead of setting up these rooms with traditional furniture of the time, there was a gorgeous art exhibit called The Wild, The Beautiful and The Damned, which traced the debaucheries of Charles II court through paintings featuring his mistresses. Naughty bunch and I quite approve. I'd rather a King who slept around than one that murdered tens of thousands for their religious views.


All in all, Charles had 14 children with his various mistresses. None with his wife. So the crown goes to... James II, his brother, who brought Catholicism back and the threat of a male Catholic heir. And so then the glorious revolution thanks to his scheming Protestant children. All this being said... let's hear it for the separation of church and state. 


The costumed characters in this area included the artist Peter Lely and Charles' mistress Barbara Villiers. Next thing you know, Kirsten and I are helping Barbara undress and redress for the sitting of a portrait and I'm sitting on the floor at Barbara's feet as Peter prepares to paint her as the Roman god, Diana the huntress... and I am to be part of the portrait as Minerva and was instructed to "look up at her in hopeful admiration". Sadly, I don't have a picture to share.

I won't take you through all the apartments, but they taught so much about the history of the monarchy and the misery of court life for everyone. Behind the merriment was a hint of indentured servitude, the threat of losing your life over gossip and accusation. If you think about it, the most honoured position was to be the dude in charge of the privy chamber. "May I wipe your behind sir?" For the royals, there was less privacy than now and greater chance of death.

This place is probably crawling with ghosts at night.
One effectively creepy moment involved walking down an empty staircase, no one else is around us, we could hear the voice of young child whispering the fate of each of Henry's wives: "Divorced. Beheaded. Died. Divorced. Beheaded. Survived." Ok, well that's ingrained in the memory. And all memorialized on Kirsten's new mug "The Vanishing Heads of  the wives of Henry VIII".

Our next stop... The Tower of London... and the murder continues.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

London Calling... In hindsight

I had every intention of posting while I travelled with my friend Kirsten in London last week. Well the wifi gods were against me, so instead I'm doing post trip postings. If that annoys your sense of authenticity, tough. :) Enjoy!


Watch where you're going, you foolish tourist!

I think I may have learned to play poker at Kensington Palace! But I'm getting ahead of myself. 

London is even more beautiful than I remember it. And the weather even less cooperative, but it is London so suck it up and get on with it, which, I believe is what they really mean with "Keep calm and carry on."

The flight over was relatively uneventful, as is normal when spending 6 and a half hours crammed in a shoe box 30,000 feet in the air. One note to fellow overnight travellers: if the sign says fasten your seat belts, stay in your damned seat. The rest of us really resent you having to be told to sit down over the PA in two official languages PLUS Hindi for good measure. 

The first couple of days were dedicated to getting oriented. We're staying in Kensington right near the High Street and the palace. Thank the sweet Lord, we are right next to a Boots. Every hotel on earth should be required to have a large drug store next door. It's more important than a coffee shop, I swear. 
  
I don't think I did a very good job of warning Kirsten that in the night, I may turn into a moaning ghost. Not sure if I can spell this out well, but it's best described as a cross between Jacob Marley from "A Christmas Carol" and any number of the ghosts from "Scooby Doo."  Thankfully she hasn't smothered me with a pillow. Not yet anyway. 

But on to the sites! The first day was really sunny and lovely. We did the hop on and hop off tour to get oriented to the city. The tour gave us a fantastic view of every angle of Big Ben. I have pictures of Ben coming and going, underneath him and from a distance. Ben and I are tight. 
One of the many views of my friend Ben (plus some dude's balding head)

We ended day one with a ghost walk where we learned snippets of history, saw the Savoy up close (Bev Oda does have good taste) and spent some quality time in a pub. Hard cider tastes even better here. 

I was assured that I was less disruptive in my second night of sleep. However, a familiar obnoxious feeling crept into my throat. By 1 pm the next day there was no denying it. I have my traditional travel cold. In the last 3 years I have not been able to travel without getting sick either during or immediately after a trip. Thank you forties. 

But before full blown congestion, we did see some sights. The highlight was definitely Kensington Palace.  We bought a joint membership, which not only gets us into 5 key palaces, it also legally weds me and Kirsten in a few countries. 

I'm glad we started with the Diana exhibit, because it was the most disappointing. It was billed as a glimpse of the princess. Well that's accurate. 5 of her dresses crammed into one small room. I was really hoping her wedding gown would be there, but the gown that 10 years later influenced the puffiness of my own wedding gown's sleeves was nowhere to be seen. 

The rest of the experience was outstanding. The king's apartment gave us a good understanding of George I, who was plucked from Germany to be king of England to keep those pesky Catholics off the throne. He couldn't speak English and was coached by his advisors to say "I'm here for the good of you all!" But instead he said "I'm here for all your goods." I believe I've witness this type of PR situation in my career as a communicator. That's what you call the "jumping for the microphone" moment. 

This is where I learned to play poker! Ok it's called Commerce, but whatever. A young courtier taught us how it worked to live in court and earn favour. Playing cards was extremely important and helped you to move up the ranks. He taught us the popular game at time, which, with its 3 of a kind, straights and flushes, must be a precursor to poker. Anyway, I won. I can't tell you what I won because I don't think Kirsten has broken it to her husband that she put him up for collateral. She claims he was offered because she didn't have any land to wager.   

In the Queen's apartment, the most helpful man on earth cleared up about 300 years of confusing history by explaining what happened in the time between Elizabeth I and Victoria. Don't get him started on how they teach about the glorious revolution in school. 

The Victoria exhibit shed light on this fascinating woman. Most of us think of her as a dour widow but she was young and lively and beautiful during her years with Albert. She had 9 children with him. And she was devastated and heartbroken when he died of typhoid fever at 41. Oh yeah, he was her first cousin. 

Interesting tidbit, the 2 most remarkable love matches in royal history - Victoria and Albert, and William of Orange and Mary II - were between first cousins. Go figure. 


A feeble attempt to hold Ben
We ended our rainy day tour with a trip on the London Eye. Not really sure it was worth the nearly 20 quid. We did get to see more angles of Big Ben and there was a woman on board who appeared just this side of crazy. Oh, and we conquered the tube.

Today we're off to Hampton Court. Kirsten is hoping to find a "Henry's 7th wife" shirt. I'll be looking for nasal spray and perhaps clotted cream. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Welcome to Chicago

Any guesses on how long it takes to drive from Uniontown, PA to Chicago? Yeah, WAY TOO LONG. We decided to break up our drive with an overnight stop in Bryan, Ohio. They have the finest Holiday Inn Select and are so damned nice, but there is nothing to do in Bryan Ohio.

Before we drove approximately 6 million miles we thought we'd go on a hike in the Ohiopyle State Park. Mainly I wanted to do this because it took me about a week to figure out how to say Ohiopyle. I found it fun to say Ohiopyle. And there is a trail that takes you to a place called Cucumber Falls. What's not to love?

I forgot to mention that we had perfect weather for our FLW tour and managed to zoom around the Pennsylvania countryside with Ginger's top down (settle down, she's a convertible, remember.) On this out, Ginger kept her top on but did manage to go offroading when I mistook a sign for a picnic area for the trail sign. Ginger had no business being on that road. She was a trooper. Despite - or maybe because of a series of wrong turns, we ended up driving to Cucumber Falls. Well thank God because a three hour hike to those falls would have been really disappointing.

Turns out that driving from Pennsylvania, through Ohio and Indiana is a lot like driving the 401 from Windsor to Montreal without the traffic. You don't do it for the scenic drive. But we made it to Chicago despite one small incident with a toll booth that decided to konk out just as we arrived. I ended up having to scream out my credit card number to an operator. I assume it was legit because the arm did eventually go up. Half of Ohio knows my credit card number. What could go wrong?

Finally in Chicago we explored. We are the most inefficient route planners on earth. If I drew a picture of our route, it would look like a bad etch a sketch drawing. We did make the most of the rainy afternoon by eating at a diner featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives (the waitress led us astray with what was featured on the show) finding Sears Tower, Cloud Gate, and most importantly American Girl. Oh and the John Hancock Center for drinks with a view.

About American Girl. We love our 10 year old niece. And she loves American Girl. Every trip to NY and Chicago has involved a visit to this frightening store to bring her back a gift. Once I even returnned home with a small horse. This trip did not involve any barnyard animals, but it I did enjoy giving Dave a chance to experience the store. He was great - helped pick out the gifts and even carried the bag the res of the night without fear of being beaten up.

The last (and only other time) I was in Chicago my girlfriend Jaime took me to the 96th floor of the John Hancock tower. It was a real treat to experience it with Dave. The weather was moody but the transition from day to night made for perfect timing.

If only I had brought my camera. Ah well BlackBerry to the rescue!

A view while we enjoyed a drink after shopping at American Girl

Chicago as seen in The Bean

Today we concluded the Frannk Lloyd Wright part of our tour with a trip to Oak Park. It gave us a better understanding of the engineering and construction flaws of Wright's designs. He basically had no itention of having his builds last forever. It was good to get a different perspective on his work. The walking tour in the drizzle satisfied our FLW geekiness.

Lunch at another Diners Drive-in and Dives - at The Depot - satisfied our tummy. Pot roast sandwich with gravy was ridiculous. We have to stop eating like this. But it's added a great subplot to our trip.

The best part of the day was dinner with friends Swaroop and Anya. I love seeing my SIGGRAPH friends more than just oncea year - especially when we didn't talk about SIGGRAPH.

Hoping the rain lets up tomorrow - but even if it doesn't, we'll still have a great day at the Art Institute with Swaroop.