Cross-Country Road Trip, Week 1.

Day One: Huntington Beach, CA. to Scottsdale, AZ.

It was an exhausting morning getting out of Huntington Beach. I had to switch rental cars, which ended up taking longer than I had planned, and I had to thoroughly clean my rental apartment before leaving – which in retrospect, I shouldn’t have done, seeing as I am still only getting half of my cleaning deposit back. Ah, well. I got on the road around 10:30am, and it took a while to get out of Orange County. I couldn’t wait to get out of the city and onto an open stretch of highway. Luckily I eventually did pass through Indio and on through Joshua Tree towards Arizona. It was funny to see the saguaro cacti again – very deja vu. Wasn’t I just here? I reached Scottsdale in the late afternoon and after a dinner at Claim Jumper, settled in for the night.

Arizona, we meet again!

Arizona, we meet again!

Day 2: Scottsdale, AZ. to Las Cruces, NM.

Another fairly easy drive – I left Scottsdale around 10am and headed east. Before too long I was back in Tucson, where I just was three weeks ago! As I drove through the city, I decided to pull over and get some gas, and in the distance I could see the Aircraft Boneyard. Ryan and I had driven by the Boneyard on our last day in Tucson three weeks before, and didn’t have time to stop. The sight of all those thousands and thousands of old planes just sitting there on acres and acres of land was quite stunning, and I really wanted to get a few photos. I decided to drive by quickly and try to get a few snaps. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any good place to pull over and get out of the car, so I had to make do with some shots through the car window. One day I will get back to Tucson and properly walk through the Boneyard!

Parts of the afternoon drive were quite stunning. New Mexico is just so beautiful. In the early afternoon, big puffy clouds filled the blue skies, but as the day went on, the clouds got bigger and darker and lower, and later in the afternoon I found myself driving through some pretty spectacular thunderstorms. It would have been kind of beautiful if I hadn’t been so freaked out that I was going to get struck by lightning! I made it safely to the hotel, though, around 6pm, and lucked out by being given a two-bedroom apartment at the Towne Place Suites as I am a platinum Marriott member. Woohoo!

Airplane carcasses at the Aircraft Boneyard in Tucson

Airplane carcasses at the Aircraft Boneyard in Tucson

Day 3: Las Cruces, NM. to San Antonio, TX.

A long, long drive this day across I-10, which was surprisingly beautiful. I thought it would be barren and dusty, but it was actually quite green with some beautiful rock formations. I was thrilled to see that the speed limit along that stretch of I-10 was 80 mph! Yes! I made really good time in part because of that, and in part because I didn’t see a single highway patrol car all day. In Arizona, the highway patrol were everywhere, and if not a live cop, then a parked car with a camera. I must have seen at least 20 highway patrol cars the day before, so it was nice not seeing ANY once I passed into Texas.

It rained most of the afternoon, but the driving was fine, and no scary lightning! I reached San Antonio around 7pm, having passed through a whole time zone that day! My hotel was on the Riverwalk, but I was too tired to venture out.  I ordered in food and settled in for the evening.

A dreary day in Texas

A dreary day in Texas

Day 4: San Antonio, TX. to Houston, TX.

A nice sleep in and an easy drive to Houston from San Antonio. There was even time to stop at a yarn store before heading to the hotel 🙂 I checked into the Hyatt downtown and had a nice afternoon and evening in, relaxing. That night I met up with my dear friends Fran and Tanya for drinks at the hotel bar. They are both working on the “Mary Poppins” tour which is playing the Hobby Center in Houston. Fran toured with me on “Spamalot” in 2007 and Tanya and I have known each other since our early twenties when we were both working as stage managers in the Bay Area. I love both those girls to death.

Houston skyline, as seen from my hotel room window

Houston skyline, as seen from my hotel room window

Day 5: Houston

A lovely day off with no driving! I slept in and then met up with Fran and Tanya for lunch and some thrift shopping. We had a great afternoon, catching up, laughing and making some good purchases. I scored a handful of vintage dress patterns at an antique store for a dollar apiece! That night I went to see “Mary Poppins” (which was really good!) and then went to the opening night party with Fran and Tanya. They both came and hung out with me after the party in my hotel room while I packed. It was hard saying goodbye to them both – I love them both so much!

Fran

Fran

Tanya

Tanya

Day 6: Houston, TX. to Wichita, KS.

Probably my hardest day of driving so far – it was a long day, 600 miles of driving, and I was tired from staying up late. Now I was headed north from Texas. I pulled over at one point to take a cat nap at a rest stop and felt much better. It was frustrating driving in Texas – there was lots of traffic and numerous road closures – I was very happy to see the “Welcome to Oklahoma” sign! I was also relieved to be off the hugely massive wide Texas freeways and onto the smaller midwestern highways. It was a really pretty drive through Oklahoma and Kansas – the sunset was especially beautiful that night. I got to the Candlewood in Wichita close to 8pm and tumbled into bed early – time to catch up on some much-needed sleep!

A long, long day of driving

A long, long day of driving

Day 7: Wichita, KS. to Saint Paul, MN.

Another long drive – another 600 miles. I began listening to the new Dan Brown novel “The Lost Symbol” and became totally engrossed in the story, which made the day pass fairly quickly. As I drove through Iowa and into Minnesota, the temperatures kept dropping, and the leaves on the trees changed into all varieties of bright autumnal colors – finally, fall! I had to laugh when I recognized a shopping center outside Kansas City with a Cracker Barrel and Walmart that we had stopped at for a dinner break during a tour bus ride from Fayetteville to Des Moines last year with “Spamalot”.  That says something about how much traveling I have done on the country’s highways when I recognize specific Cracker Barrels!

I arrived in Saint Paul around 6:30pm, and had a quick dinner at Chili’s before heading back to the hotel for a restful evening.

Signs of approaching winter in Minnesota

Signs of approaching winter in Minnesota

Tomorrow, a shorter drive to Wisconsin, to Ryan’s, where I will be until Friday! Almost 3000 miles of driving under my belt in one week – whew! I’m ready for a few days off!

Goodbye Twin Cities!

I really liked Minneapolis/St. Paul. The three weeks would have been really stellar had I had access to a car the whole time, but even so, I was able to see enough that I really cultivated quite a little crush on the Twin Cities.

I loved my apartment with its lovely little balcony, though unfortunately I never made it to the pool the whole three weeks we stayed there. And I LOVED the little Black Dog coffee shop, where I hung out at EVERY DAY. And the Farmer’s Market was great, and Grand Avenue was great, and the Yarnery was GRRRR-EAAAT! What a sweet town.

Ryan's property

Ryan's property

My second Monday in St. Paul (and my second day off), I hopped in a rental car and sped off to Sobieski, Wisconsin, where my sweetie Ryan lives. He had been on vacation for the week so that he could do some more work on his house. Ryan joined the Spam tour about two weeks before I did, and had just purchased a house and six acres of land when he left for the tour. The house is great, but needs a lot of work. Ryan is trying to do what he can here and there, but its pretty hard to renovate a house when you tour 365 days of the year. 

Exterior of Ryan's house

Exterior of Ryan's house

Anyway, I drove over to his neck of the woods, about a four hour drive from St. Paul, and was able to spend Monday there. I got the grand tour of the property and helped clean up a bit in anticipation of Ryan’s family seeing the place that night. He had been working all week on cleaning and priming the walls, and Neil, his good friend, did an amazing job retiling the bathroom floor. 

The new tile (before cleaning off the grout)

The new tile (before cleaning off the grout)

The house is great. It has so much potential. I can really envision how fantastic it will be when it is done. The ground level has two bedrooms, a big living room and kitchen, and a den, as well as a two-car garage. The living room has an amazing stone fireplace. Off the kitchen/breakfast area is a really big deck which faces the back of the property. Downstairs, there is another bedroom, bathroom, living area and wet bar. It could easily be turned into a studio apartment, or used as a family room and guest room. There are a couple of other buildings on the property – there is another two-car garage with a room above it that could be a really cool office/studio. The people that lived on the property before Ryan must have had animals, because there are also chicken coops on the land, along with some random things, like a row boat and half a school bus. All very weird and intriguing.

The garage/studio

The garage/studio

The deck

The deck

Fireplace

Fireplace

Random boat (could look cool with flowers growing out of it)

Random boat (could look cool with flowers growing out of it)

Half a schoolbus

Half a schoolbus

The downstairs living area

The downstairs living area

Like I said,though, when all the work is done, it will be amazing. It is in such a peaceful area – you can only see one neighboring property from the house. And the stars are so bright there at night – its incredible.

So after cleaning up a bit, Ryan and I went to dinner with his family and then brought them back to the house for a tour. It was nice to meet his dad and sister and see where he comes from.

We lounged on the deck that night and then left the next morning to head back to St. Paul.

The last week in St. Paul was fairly low-key, with some notable exceptions. Ryan and I went to Minneapolis on Tuesday night to see Hank III play. It was really fun, until he started in on his hard speed metal stuff. I only lasted about fifteen minutes after that and then we left. I love the country music, and I can appreciate the energy of speed metal, but in the end it all sounds the same to me and ultimately I just get bored.

On Wednesday, Ryan and I went and checked out the interior of the Cathedral of St. Paul. It is pretty amazing inside. Why don’t they build buildings like this anymore? We then walked along Summit Avenue and looked at all the big houses, and finished off the afternoon with a couple of ciders at The Happy Gnome. We walked back through the Cathedral Hill neighborhood, which is super cute.

The altar inside the cathedral

The altar inside the cathedral

The domed ceiling

The domed ceiling

Stained glass

Stained glass

Big house on Summit Ave

Big house on Summit Ave

Another big house on Summit Ave.

Another big house on Summit Ave.

F.Scott Fitzgerald's former residence

F.Scott Fitzgerald's former residence

I tried in vain to buy a bike this week. Ryan and I walked over to Sears to see what we could find, and they carry no bikes in the store! Weird. So, I made a car reservation for this Wednesday and printed out a list of bike shops in Kansas City, so hopefully I will find something. I am determined to have a bike for Portland.

We had a crazy wicked storm here on Friday night. I woke up to my cat jumping from all the lightning. Then the patio furniture started flying around on the balcony so I had to go out and grab it and pull it inside, which woke up Ken. I have never seen so much lightning in my life – it looked like bombs were going off continuously. And it was so grey and murky outside with a crazy wild swirling wind. I actually got online at three in the morning because I thought it might be a tornado. It wasn’t though, only a crazy thunder storm. A lot of people lost power, though. I spend the night huddled under the comforter with Tallulah trying to keep her calm. The next morning was sunny and beautiful, as though nothing had happened.

Sunday matinee was completely sold out by Hormel, the makers of Spam, who are based about two hours from St. Paul. They actually made for a lousy audience, very quiet. I’m not sure they were at all familiar with Monty Python, or with theater in general. The pre-party in the park across from the theater was cool, though. The Spam-mobile was there and there was Spam being grilled up on barbecues and Spam beach balls being given away – it was Spamtastic, I tell you.

So we left St. Paul for Kansas City today and it has been my worst travel day ever. I schlepped my luggage up to the Hilton at 7am to catch the company bus to the airport for a 10am flight to Chicago with a connection at 12:10pm to Kansas City. The first plane was over an hour late so we missed our connection, then had to fly standby on a flight to Kansas City at 3:30p. When we finally got to Kansas City my luggage was nowhere to be found. I reached the hotel at 6pm and ran over to CVS to improvise on a litter box situation for Tallulah, who hadn’t peed in about 12 hours. Luckily I made it into CVS before they closed and was able to buy a box and some litter. 

Its 8:45pm now and my luggage still hasn’t arrived. Grrrr.

The really crappy part is that Kansas City is only about 425 miles from St. Paul. If we had gotten on a bus at 7am and driven to Kansas City, we would have been here by 2pm. Instead we were stuck at O’Hare, not sure if we were going to make it to KC or not. Not much fun at all.

Oh well, at least my bed here is comfy and the air conditioning works – very important since the heat index today in KC was 113 degrees!

Keep your fingers crossed that my luggage arrives tonight. I will not be happy in these clothes tomorrow!

Puff-sleeved Feminine Sweater

Here is the “Puff-Sleeved Feminine Sweater” from Stefanie Japel’s Fitted Knits . Knit with Knitpicks Merino Style in Hollyberry on size 6 needles.

This was a really quick and fairly simple knit – I began during the load-in in Tulsa and finished the first week here in St. Paul. It probably would have only taken me about 2 weeks except that I ran out of yarn, so had to order more – and then that order ended up at the Academy of Music in Philly of all places, where luckily “Wicked” is playing right now – so their company manager send the package on to me. I believe the pattern calls for about six skeins of yarn but I ended up using close to eight.

I pretty much followed the pattern except for adding about ten more rows to the waist to lengthen it a bit. The lace triangles along the bottom took a few tries to get right, but in the end, I think the sweater turned out great. I’m really happy with the finished product.

Image from "Fitted Knits"

Image from "Fitted Knits"

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My finished product

My finished product

Feeling Minnesota

Near the Capitol building

Near the Capitol building

I had always suspected that I would like the Twin Cities, specifically Minneapolis, and in the short list of top places where I think I could live, for some reason Minneapolis has always been near the top. We are currently playing St. Paul, Minneapolis’s twin city – they are about ten miles apart. When we first got here last Monday, my first impressions weren’t much. Downtown St. Paul is fairly desolate, sadly like so many of the downtowns that we have visited across the country. There are a couple of strips of restaurants and bars, so I wouldn’t categorize it as one of the worst, like say Rochester or Tulsa, but there’s definitely not a whole lot going on in the general vicinity of the theater. 

The thing about St. Paul, though, is that at first meeting it seems like another throw-away city, but then you start making daily discoveries of little gems.

I’m staying in a corporate apartment building about seven blocks from the theater with Ken, my boss. The first St. Paul gem is the balcony that my bedroom opens up onto. Surprisingly, none of the hotels I have stayed at so far on this tour have had balconies – thinking back to family vacations when I was growing up and the hotels, and even motels, that we stayed at – most of them had balconies. These days this is a rarity. I have an amazing view of the St. Paul skyline and am loving the ability to have fresh air in my room so much that I am sleeping with the sliding glass door open. Tallulah is loving the space of the apartment, the large window ledges, and another human whom she can beg attention from.

Night view from my balcony

Night view from my balcony

And day view...

And day view...

Load-in and opening were easy. The Ordway Center is big and beautiful, the woodwork and glass of the lobbies and the exterior of the building remind me of Fort Lauderdale, while the tiered music hall seating looks much like the Academy of Music in Philly. The crew are smart, quick and can hear. A big plus over the Des Moines crew. We had an opening night party in the lobby at the Ordway and a group of us discovered an outdoor patio where we spent much of the night, drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, laughing, and making fun of Patrick (our Lancelot)who could not keep a drink in his hand to save his life – multiple spills, multiple spills. We also were regaled by he and Nigel’s stories of picking up women in the various cities (lovely, I know). In St. Paul they had met twins. “Twins in the Twin Cities!” was their motto.

The town is embracing the show, that’s for sure. The local brewery, the Great Rivers Brewing Company, has a whole Spam menu and they have cans of Spam on all the tables, Spam napkins, and the servers are wearing Spam t-shirts. I went out for sushi the other day and even the sushi restaurant had a can of Spam displayed behind the counter!

Wednesday night was Brian O’Brien’s debut in Kevin Crewell’s ensemble track. He did great and it is so nice to have another tall boy in our ensemble! He is also very athletic so the Nun and Monk pas de deux is nothing to him, nor is the oft-whined about “bullet cross” in “Run Away”. 

St. Paul gem #2 was the discovery of another great mom-and-pop cafe/wine bar a couple of blocks from my apartment, called Black Dog Coffee Bar and Cafe. I don’t know why finding these kind of spots makes me so happy, but they really do. I am sitting in Black Dog right now, as a matter of fact, enjoying a salad and an iced coffee. These funky cafes just give a city some personality and provide a little comfortable haven to hang out in and relax. 

 

On Friday I wandered over to the state capitol to take some photos. It is another very impressive building, like many of the state capitols that I have been lucky enough to see along the way on this tour.

Minnesota State Capitol

Minnesota State Capitol

Saturday night, Ryan’s good friends Neil and Tara came to see the show. We had a nice dinner with them at a woodfire grill restaurant near the theater and then some drinks at the brewing company afterwards. It was great to meet some of Ryan’s friends from home.

This past Monday I rented a car and drove to Mankato, Minnesota, which is a town that I have wanted to visit for years. What is in Mankato, you ask? Mankato is the birthplace of Maud Hart Lovelace, author of the Betsy-Tacy books which are a series of books that I loved growing up. These books are about two best friends, Betsy and Tacy, who grew up in Deep Valley, Minnesota, around the turn of the century. They start with the book “Betsy-Tacy”, which begins with Betsy’s fifth birthday, and end with “Betsy’s Wedding”, which is obviously about the main character’s wedding. The high school books are my favorites, and I still go back and read them. Just picturing the dances, sleigh rides, parties and football games that the kids enjoyed – the books just really make you appreciate a time before tv and video games. 

Years after I first read the Betsy-Tacy books, I discovered an amazing book called The Betsy-Tacy Companion. It was after devouring this book, that I found out that the character Betsy was actually based on the author, Maud Hart Lovelace, and that Tacy was based on her real-life best friend, Bick. Deep Valley was really Mankato, MN, and all the characters in the books had real-life counterparts, and that the stories in the books had actually happened. I did a bit more poking around and found that there is a group called The Betsy-Tacy Society who have not only worked very hard at keeping the books in print all these years later, but have bought the two houses in Mankato that Betsy and Tacy (Maud and Bick) grew up in, and are in the process of restoring them to the way they were in 1900. 

So, to make a long story short, I printed out a walking tour of Deep Valley (Mankato) from the web page of the Betsy-Tacy Society, drove to Mankato, and spent an afternoon wandering around the neighborhood that I had been reading about for years and years.

What was truly amazing about Mankato, was that without trying all that hard, I was able to block out the KFC and Dairy Queen, and really imagine what it was like to be living there a hundred years ago. Many of the houses are the same structures that they were back then, and the descriptions in the books are so good that I realized, walking around, that “Deep Valley” really looked exactly as I had imagined.

There were a few disappointments. The bench at the end of Hill Street (Center Street) where Betsy and Tacy spent many a night hanging out, was gone. I could see the impression in the cement where it should have been. There was some repaving of the street going on, so maybe it had been removed for safe-keeping. Because I was visiting on a Monday, I was not able to go inside Tacy’s house (it is only open on Saturdays), nor was the Blue Earth Historical Center open (where there is a Maud Hart Lovelace display). I also couldn’t get to the Glenwood Cemetery, where Maud is buried, because of roadwork. I was also sad to find that the house Betsy lived in during her high school years had been torn down to make way for a parking lot (!)

HOWEVER, the day was magical. Betsy and Tacy’s houses are exactly as I imagined, and because no one was around, I could sit on their porches and transport myself back into the time of the books. I walked up the Hill Street hill and the Big Hill. I saw many of the houses of their friends, including Tib’s (Midge Gerlach, their other closest friend) which was around the corner on Byron Street. I saw the high school where so many of the stories take place, and the slough, where the characters went picnicking and sledding. Carney’s (Marion Willard) house, with its big lawn, is still standing, and looks exactly as it did in my mind’s eye.

Betsy's house - 333 Center St.

Betsy's house - 333 Center St.

Tacy's house - 332 Center St.

Tacy's house - 332 Center St.

Carney's house - Broad Street

Carney's house - Broad Street

Tib's house - Byron St.

Tib's house - Byron St.

It was an amazing day, seeing the town where I had spent so many hours visiting in my mind. I was so happy to see that Mankato takes a real pride in the fact that Maud Hart Lovelace is from there, and was also happy to see so many of the old houses still in existence. There were other parts of the town, the Front Street business area, for example, that made me sad though, because the original architecture is gone. Seeing photos of the spectacular old storefronts just made me more disgusted by the new generic buildings that have taken their place. Where the old opera house used to stand is now an office building. Where the old Melbourne hotel was is now an ugly Holiday Inn. I went into a mostly-abandoned shopping mall downtown and saw that a couple of the old brick storefronts are still there, but have been enclosed inside the modern indoor shopping center. And just seeing the KFCs and Burger Kings, etc., made me ache for the days of mom-and-pop businesses, when towns had originality and personality. Although I am happy that many of the original houses are still standing in Mankato, the business district, like so many other cities in America, has sadly become generic and ugly and could have been almost any city, really, personality-less. I think these are the reasons I love the unique coffee shops in the various cities, and why New York City and San Francisco, despite their flaws, remain two of my favorite American cities – because they still have one-of-a-kind, interesting shops and restaurants that make up the quirky and unique personalities of those cities. There are pockets of those cities that are not all Hooters and Home Depots. 

I wish we could go back to a time where small, individual businesses could flourish and not be such a rarity.

I drove back to St. Paul from Mankato on a couple of rural highways where I could really appreciate what a beautiful state Minnesota is. They don’t call it “the Land of 10,000 Lakes” for nothing! There are lakes everywhere. It is really amazing. I wanted to stop and pull over constantly because there were so many breathtaking sights.

I reached St. Paul as the sun was getting low in the sky and took advantage of the great light and the rental car, and drove up the hill to the cathedral to take some photos of this stunning building. I plan to go back this week or next to see the inside. I realized that the Cathedral hooked up with Summit Avenue, which is lined with all kinds of big, fancy houses, including a house where F. Scott Fitzgerald lived. I made another plan to go back and wander around before we leave town.

St. Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul's Cathedral

Yesterday I drove over to Grand Avenue, St. Paul gem #3. There is a strip, about three miles from downtown, which is oh-so-cool, with boutiques and restaurants and coffee shops. Another place I must go back to. I popped into The Yarnery – a yarn shop – to look for some buttons to put on the sweater I just finished (pictures next post). What a great yarn store! The outside doesn’t look like much, but this store is STOCKED! They have tons of really quality yarn, including lots of Rowan. They also have a ton of pattern books and magazines, and lots of notions, needles and bags and accessories. I was REALLY impressed. If you a knitter and in the area, check this store out.

I then drove over to Minneapolis and visited the Uptown neighborhood, which is filled with shops and restaurants. I spent the afternoon doing a yarn shop tour – visiting three different shops in the city. None were as good as The Yarnery, but it was cool driving around to the different neighborhoods. Minneapolis has some spectacular houses and again with the lakes everywhere! Amazing! Funnily enough, I ended up finding the buttons for my sweater at good old Joann’s Fabrics! 

I finished up in Minneapolis with a little bit more Betsy-Tacy history – visiting Betsy and Joe’s (Maud and her husband Delos’s) first apartment, which is immortalized in “Betsy’s Wedding”.

Betsy and Joe's first apartment

Betsy and Joe's first apartment

This week I am looking forward to visiting the Farmer’s Market around the corner from my apartment building, which I suspect may be St. Paul gem #4, and driving to Sobieski, Wisconsin on Monday to see Ryan’s house (he is there this week doing some more work on the place). And I definitely want to get back to the Cathedral, Summit Ave and Grand Ave.

I am definitely feeling Minnesota.