15 December 2007

Memphis Vacation

When we moved to Oregon in June, we knew that we’d still want to make occasional visits back home, though the mental concept of “vacationing” in Memphis seems weird, having lived there almost all of my 42 years. But my mom is still there and we still have many friends that we wanted to see, so we spent the better part of this fall trying to find a deal on plane tickets. Flying out of Salem was out of the question: over $700 each and we have to have 5 tickets! Portland was a little better, but still over $350 each, so we were looking at flying out of Seattle. Weeks passed and we couldn’t find anything cheaper than about $260, and that was for a 1-stop flight at odd hours. Finally, just a couple of weeks before my scheduled vacation, we were blessed to find a great deal on Priceline for 5 plane tickets and a rental car: under $1,500 for 5 NON-STOP tickets on Northwest, plus an Avis full-size rental car for 5 days; only $21 a day!

We were scheduled to fly out Tuesday, the 4th, about noon.  As you may have seen, the Pac-NW experienced record breaking flooding the first weekend of December. A 20 mile section of Interstate 5 was under as much as 10 feet of water! About 5 miles short of the exit where they had closed I-5, my boss called my cell phone to warn me. Sure enough, at exit 68 in Washington, we hit traffic stopped and exiting. Many of the big rigs were simply parking for the night, since most of the available back roads were closed to vehicles over 10,000 lbs. Thankfully, I had my GPS with me, and we snaked our way around Hwys 12 and 7, only having to go about 75 miles out of the way. It was kind of a white knuckle drive, though. Twisty mountain roads, old snow on the ground along the sides, pitch black! I had to zoom the resolution down on my Garmin Legend Cx to about 200 feet just so I could see the curves approaching! We arrived safely at grandma’s house about 9PM, though, thinking our worst trip hardship was probably behind us.

WRONG! We arrived at SEA-TAC Airport in plenty of time, knowing that getting the five of us through security can be difficult. I wear a big honking knee brace from my injury a few months ago, and Timothy wears plastic and metal braces on his feet, which have to be removed before going through the metal detector. He also doesn’t understand “don’t touch the sides,” so he inevitably does and sets it off. So he and I both get hand searched. But that turned out to be smooth sailing compared to simply getting our boarding passes. We learned something important that day. Apparently, there is a “William Spencer” on the FBI National Terrorist Watch List. Wow! What a coincidence! WE have a “William Spencer” with us! But although he can be a little terror on occasion, at FOUR-YEARS-OLD, he is unlikely to be the “William” they are looking for. After convincing the ticket agent that, no, we do not have a government issued ID for a 4 year old (including a Driver’s License, I swear, one of them asked!), the agents (at least three of them by now) spent about 20 minutes trying to get the computer to bypass the warning and print him a boarding pass. If all they are going to give the agents at the ticket counters is a “name,” God forbid that “Joe Smith” ever decides to become a terrorist! Could they not give the agent at the counter a brief physical description of the watchlist person, so they can look at my three foot tall four year old and know that he is not a “26 year old Caucasian Male, 6’1” with medium build and black hair?” The agent had to call an 800 number to get instructions and was finally able to get us a boarding pass. Other than the expected and brief delays of the hand search, our outbound flight to Memphis was uneventful. We arrived in the early evening and did what all rednecks do when visiting a new town: we went to Walmart! After picking up a few things for the mini-fridge, we stopped at Sonic for dinner, since we were having withdrawals as there are no Sonics in Salem, then we crashed at the hotel for the first night of our visit.

We stayed at the hotel that [my now-ex-wife] used to work at, the Best Western Galleria at I-40 and Hwy 64. The owner gave us the employee rate, which was a great deal! It’s a nice hotel, and our only incident the whole week was the fire alarm that went off at 3:30 one morning! It was, apparently, false, but the night clerk didn’t know how to shut it off, or call the monitoring service, or send the security guard up to check it out, or shut it off, so it went off for something like 15 minutes!!

On Wednesday morning, smarting from the 2-hour time difference, we finally got moving and got over to see my mom first thing about lunchtime! She’s doing about as well as you can expect at 84, she has issues with COPD, her heart, and her short term memory. After visiting with her for an hour or two, we went by our old church, Leawood Baptist. Not that much had changed in the 7 or so years since we’ve been gone, other than not knowing very many of the staff anymore! It was sad to catch up on all the folks who have passed away, and many others who are now in nursing homes, etc. Leaving there, we stopped by an old neighbor’s house and drove by our old houses before heading out to Cordova. We stopped by Tennessee Sports Zone for [my now-ex-wife] and picked up a case of Corky's BBQ sauce to ship back to Oregon! After that, it was time for Wednesday night church at Bellevue Baptist Church.

Boy, things have changed here! The new security measures in the children’s area were a little disconcerting. There is now only one way in or out, all the other doors are locked from the outside and alarmed from within. Seems to be a bit of overkill to me, but I suppose in reaction to the criticism they have received (some perhaps justified, some irrational), better safe than sorry. We finally found our way to the other side to the church (without finding the cheese) and were able to meet up with a number of our friends. It was great seeing them again! So many more we would have liked to get together with, but time is finite, and many were home that night because it was the Wednesday before the start of the Singing Christmas Tree.

After church we grabbed take out: McDonald’s for the kids and Corky’s BBQ for me and Barb! Boy, that stuff is good! It’s another of those things you just can’t get in Oregon, though I admit we haven’t sampled the local “BBQ” joints, yet. Barbeque is a special thing, as much instinctive art as culinary science! This site does a pretty good job of explaining for the uninitiated. In a nutshell, BBQ has three variables: Type of meat; type of wood fuel, and sauce-vs-no sauce. Never confuse grilling with barbeque, however. The difference is heat and speed: barbeque is low and slow; grilling is high and fast!

Thursday, we again stopped by to see Mom, then met [my now-ex-wife]’s grandparents at Chick-fil-a for lunch. They drove up from Olive Branch, a good 30 miles! I love it when people in Salem (a town of about 140K) say “Oh, I don’t want to go there, it’s all the way across town”, meaning it’s 5 or 6 miles away! In Memphis, when something is “all the way across town,” it’s 40 miles away! After lunch, I met up with my good friend “Hoot Owl,” and we found a couple of geocaches. It was wonderful hiking the woods of Bartlett Park (aka "Stanky Creek) again, though my knee ached some afterward! Later, he dropped me off at the hotel so [my now-ex-wife] could attend the Christmas party of her old Bible Fellowship class at Bellevue. While she was there, the kids and I stayed at the hotel and I finished up my final paper for one of the college courses I took this semester. I finished class with one A and one B, and only have one class left in the spring to finally graduate in May with a Bachelor’s Degree from Univ. of Memphis, only 23 years after taking my first college course!

Friday, [my now-ex-wife] had set aside for me to geocache with Hoot. I am very near my 1,000th find, and really pushed the last couple of weeks to make it to 1K while on my trip back home. We met up about 10AM and began a short tour of Bartlett before heading downtown. We found some really neat ones along the way, like 'hood Wood,, & The Butler Did It,” and weren’t able to find a couple of neat ones because they seemed to be gone: “Go See Tom Lee,” and “That Devil Forrest.” Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest and his wife are actually buried in the statue/tomb in Forrest Park, a fact that causes great consternation among many in the area. Unfortunately, the park is also a homeless haven, and several caches have come and gone from here, including apparently this one. This is a good place for Waymarking: it still brings you to the interesting location, but does not require constant replacement of stolen containers! As long as the statue and nearby historical markers are still standing, the Waymark can remain listed.

By about 3PM, it became obvious that I was not going to make my 1K. I currently sit about 35 short, but that’s okay, it was still a great day with my old friend, and it wasn’t over yet. We planned to meet our friends “JBGreer” and “Mackheath” to hunt a special cache hidden by another cacher I’m proud to know: “BitBrain.” His cache is called “Mission Improbable,” and involves finding a container that includes a special mission for the cacher to complete before logging a find on the cache. After meeting nearby, we carpooled to a familiar area to begin our search. A portion of this multi-cache is a night cache, meaning it must be done at night because it requires locating reflectors that cannot be easily seen in daylight. A miscommunication caused us to not have the “exact” coordinates of the starting point, so we had to rely on the Owl’s memory of where to begin. After some wandering around, difficult to do with my gimpy limb, stubbing toes and almost turning my recently healing ankle on cypress knobs, snagging my boot on hidden blackberry vines and having a hard time extricating myself when I can’t lift my foot more than about 18 inches off the ground (but I’m not bitter), we finally picked up the first set of reflectors and made our way to them. I finally got to be of some use to the group by helping to spot the next set of reflectors, sometimes more than one set at a time. Eventually, we found the last set of reflectors and the cache box itself (all but Ed, who was…ahem…indisposed at the time). We sifted through the missions and found one with my name on it. My mission had to do with bulldozers, a historical reference to my first cache, for which BitBrain was the first to hunt (but not first to find), which died an untimely death to destruction by one of these behemoths, which at the time I assumed was a bulldozer. JBGreer and Mackheath didn’t have personalized missions, which I thought was odd, since they are among the more likely hunters of such a cache in the area. BitBrain is obviously an optimistic soul, as some of the personalized missions belonged to good friends of his, but persons highly unlikely to be in a position to hunt this cache. As we made our way out, JBGreer realized he’d left his walking stick leaning against a tree near the cache, so we drove back to the cache and Ed leaned out the passenger’s side window and snagged it. ;^)

After getting back to Hoot’s vehicle, we said goodbye to our friends, though I hoped to see them again the following night (which will be covered below). Hoot and I headed back into town and I texted Barb to see where she was. She’d spent the day visiting friends in Arlington and the kids’ old schools, though she didn’t get to see her friend Michelle due to sickness at their house, and didn’t get to spend a lot of time in Arlington because Timothy kinda freaked out wanting to go “home” to our old house. By this time, she was with our friends at Randy and Sheila’s house with our other friend Mary. I had Hoot drop me there and made plans to see him tomorrow night (wait for it). I was sad not to have made 1K, but it was a great day with my old buddies and I was glad to get to visit with Randy, Shelia, and Mary.

After catching up on dinner, which they had already eaten, we sat and chatted for a bit before they decided to take the kids shopping for their Christmas presents. We needed a couple of things from Walmart, so I suggested Randy ride with me to do that. William decided to stay with the boys while the girls went shopping. While at Walmart, I fulfilled my “mission,” which was to have my picture taken with a bulldozer. Since Bit didn’t say what kind of bulldozer, I found a cache safe version! After finding zilch in the way of “Memphis” or “Tennessee” souvenirs at Walmart, we went to Walgreens. Although there were closer Walgreens stores, I chose the one at Chimneyrock and Berryhill so I could pick up a simple little cache that had eluded me for a variety of reasons when I lived in Arlington. I picked up a few “local” items for a Christmas party back here in Oregon this weekend, then dropped Randy off at home and headed back to the hotel, stopping at Sonic for milkshakes on the way. I also tried their “cheesecake bites,” with which I was not impressed.

Saturday morning we got up earlier and went out to see my mom again. Before we left, [my now-ex-wife] got to see Michelle for a few minutes when she dropped off some boxes we’d left with her when we moved because the moving truck was full. We then took those things and a few others to UPS to get shipped, paying more than all the stuff was probably worth! After visiting my mom, we went by Sonic (I love thier tots and coneys!) for lunch and headed out to Millington to see our friends Ben and Dee, spending an hour or two out there before heading back through Arlington. It was my first chance of the trip to see the town, our old house, etc. Sometimes I really miss it, Arlington is maybe the best place I’ve ever lived, the perfect small town.

By now it was getting dark and we had a long drive down to Mississippi to attend the !Holiday Bash 2007 at Team Sprout International Headquarters. I’d attended one other event there, and Paul and his wife Erica are the consummate hosts! It was fantastic seeing so many more of our friends, though JBGreer and Mackheath couldn’t make it. I was especially proud to have personally delivered two wandering travel bugs back to their owners: CGeek’s Panda Bear and BitBrain’s Dreadlock Photo Op. After visiting for some time, we settled in to a most enjoyable game of “Dirty Santa.” Hilarity definitely ensued when we drew numbers for, then stole, then re-stole gifts for the next two hours! Of course, our own gifts stood out as the only ones that said “Made in Oregon!” Overall, I was happy with the ones we ended up with, since we only got stuck with one of our own things, and I made our only “steal” toward the end, nabbing a cool “Space Pen” and the best bug repellent made from BitBrain, who will in all likelihood beat me to 1K! Later that evening, the most gracious and generous PCSenn gave me the 20 Questions game to give to Chicklet, who was not happy at having it stolen earlier in the night! She hardly put it down all the way back to Oregon. It was also great to see our friend Chibongo, with whom I can commiserate in her infirmity, though she certainly did a better job on her leg that I did on mine! As the hour grew late, and our early morning departure grew near, we said our goodbyes and went back to the hotel to finish packing and get a brief night’s sleep before flying out Sunday morning.

I really wish we could have stayed over a Sunday, as I would have loved to attend Bellevue that morning and see some more of our church friends, but we had to drop the rental car at 7AM. We had NO trouble getting boarding passes this time, but had a heck of a time getting through Memphis Intl Airport's version of TSA security! We must have had 10 trays of stuff lined up on the belt and I had to practically get undressed to get rid of all metal on me!! The scanner “lady” threw a rude fit at a small tube of hand lotion in [my now-ex-wife]’s backpack, which had sailed through SEA-TAC with no problems. She demanded that I throw this $15 tube away, though giving me NOWHERE to throw it!! Finally what appeared to be a supervisor looked at it and chunked it back in one of our bins, saying it was okay. When will TSA learn: ain’t no redneck gonna blow up no plane WHILE HE’S SITTIN ON IT!!

Remarkably, Tim breezed through security thanks to a kind assist from a friendly TSA employee. I, of course, got thoroughly checked due to my knee brace. The screener was through, but courteous and professional as he swabbed and scanned me, my brace, and my clothes. The rivets in my jeans, even the foil label on my breath mints set that thing off!! You couldn’t sneak a staple onto that plane! I don’t mind the scans, I have nothing to hide, it’s just the feeling that all we’re really accomplishing is making sure that the only ones on the plane armed with anything more useful than their keys are the ones who are trying to sneak weapons onto the plane! Sort of like my feelings on gun control laws: I’m not opposed to some minor common sense restrictions, but if a person is willing to break the law against murdering someone, why would they have any compunctions about breaking the gun control law?

We finally made it through security relatively intact, and made our way to our gate, of course nearly the farthest one possible. While waiting, I picked up a coffee mug and a Neely’s Interstate BBQ sandwich. First time I’d had Neely’s. Good BBQ, but the sauce was a little sweet for my tastes. That’s what’s so great about BBQ, though; there’s something for everyone’s tastes: sweet, spicy, hot, mesquite or hickory wood, beef, pork, chicken, sauce or no sauce, it’s all good!

The flight back home was again uneventful, though the stewardesses were about as close to rude as I’ve ever seen! Mom met us at the airport and we had lunch there before hitting the road back to Salem. I-5 had been reopened by then, so the trip was about normal. I was surprised at how little damage we were able to see from the interstate. WSDOT must have done an incredible job of repairing the damage to the roadway!

Before going home, we stopped by the home of our friends the Kensquatches, who had baby-sat our dog Rascal while we were gone. I promised them a “real” BBQ dinner once the holidays are over and my stash of sauce arrives via UPS! Having picked up the two hours we lost going east, we’d been up since the equivalent of 3AM and it was closing in on 9, so we retreated to the apartment and crashed. The kids had to get up and go to school Monday morning, but thankfully, I had one more day off.

It was a great trip, but it’s kinda nice to get back into the routine and get some sleep! Hopefully, we can plan a spring time trip back to see some of the folks we missed!


Mackheath said...

It was good to see you again - sorry I missed seeing the rest of the family.

Lisa said...

Hey Steve! It was so wonderful seeing you, Barbara, and the kids. I can't wait until the mega road-trip to see you again. Take care!