Monday, February 23, 2009

Head East, Eventually.

A couple of weeks ago I attended the International Motorcycle Show in Greenville, South Carolina with my husband and my parents. Each winter, Cycle World puts on a series of events in about a dozen major cities across the US and every year we pick a location to attend. We've been to places like the Georgia World Congress Center, and after hiking what seemed to be literally miles of mazes to just find the show, we promptly vowed to never return. There there are others like the Carolina First Center which was probably one of the best show locations I've seen yet.

Being February and still cold by southern standards anyway, we decided to all load up in one car and drive. We have a limited stable of larger cars in our family and rather than buy a tank to drive year-round, we rent one for the once-a-year time we need it. If the trip had any downfall, this was it. We reserved a car (or rather a "class" as they say in the rental car industry) for the trip and called that week to verify the reservation. "You'll have your pick of the lot" I was reassured by the friendly agent on the phone. He failed to complete the thought with the rest of his sentence, "... as long as your pick is the smallest Kia SUV we could find." So my reserved tank-class vehicle was presented as a minimal at best increase in space to my own small four-door car. Suffice it to say, we were highly frustrated. Frustration led however to a moment of creative thinking and we loaded up in the car we had, heading east. Since our planned route took us through Memphis and right by the airport... ah ha! Of course National at the airport had exactly what we were looking for, a clean big SUV ready for 10 hours of rolling down the highway. One swipe of the credit card and a bit of bag shuffling and we were finally on the way, properly outfitted for the trip.

I'd like to report we found some amazing stop on the way to Greenville, but with the delays leaving and stopping to rent an SUV, we just barreled through Tennessee, covering the length of the state at a steady pace. We did spot an interestingly named restaurant when we stopped for dinner, Petro's Chili and Chips, but at nearly 10pm and 3 more hours of travel to go, we decided it might not be a wise stop. Next time I'm in Knoxville, Tennessee though, I may just have to look up Petro's for a stop. I can't pass up a chance to try chicken tortilla soup, especially one described as "homemade."

Next stop, Greenville, South Carolina at a good hotel with a comfy bed. More on that later...

Monday, February 09, 2009

Gut Instinct

When the lady at the front desk said "We don't have any king beds, all our rooms are single or double queen rooms" I should have listened to my gut, thanked her for her help and gone to the next hotel. Instead I allowed myself to be caught up in the newness of the hotel. Not the best move on my part.

Let me back up to the beginning. We were visiting family in Mountain Home, Arkansas and decided to stay the night. I knew there was a fairly new Holiday Inn Express and had expected to grab a room there. However, when my husband and I drove by, we spotted a brand new Hampton Inn next door. "Even newer?" I thought. "Sure, why not!" So along the way we stopped and I ducked in to reserve a room for the night. Everything was shiny-new and looked like a typical new Hampton Inn. The rate seemed reasonable, and rooms were available. Then the clerk gave me the news about bed choices. Succumbing to the gloss, sparkly gleam and a mostly empty parking lot, I decided to proceed with the room.

That night we returned to our room for the night. The room itself was standard fare, but typical of a small town was a bit more spacious, especially for the price. The bed was reasonably comfortable, as was the rest of the room. We nodded off for the night. Then came 6am. Around that time, it began to sound like someone was taking a shower about 3 feet from our bed. Anytime someone walked by in the hallway, it was as if they were talking to us. So while it was nice on the surface, the sound issue falls into that area that is inexcusable.

So I have to remind myself to listen to that little voice when booking a hotel. Anytime I've questioned my judgement and not heeded the warning, I've regretted the decision. Next time it's the Holiday Inn Express with the king-size bed.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Powerful Lessons

As the new year began, I had convinced myself I'd blog more. Then I blinked. Then I was changing my calendar to February and I was falling way behind on that goal. It's not like one of those vague "In insert year here I will eat better and get in shape" type resolutions. It's simple. Plant myself in front of the computer, and put some words on the screen. For someone who works at the aforementioned computer all day long, you'd think it would be easy. It's proven to be a bit more challenging than I thought.

My only legitimate reason was a power outage and that lasted a mere three days. It did however lead to some interesting food experiences, so that alone is worth noting. Mother Nature delivered to our area a blanket of freezing rain, which of course created an icy landscape complete with large treetops dipping down for a close-up view of the earth. That same thick layer of ice that made things look beautiful found its way onto to power lines, cable lines, power poles and most anything and everything exposed to the outdoor air and wind. So about ten minutes into watching a tv show everything went dark and stayed that way until about three days later. I forget just how much relies on power, it's those basic little things like the refrigerator, freezer, microwave, tv, computers. If you're married to a techno-nut like me, all phones require power too.

So where did that leave me? Sitting at home with no power and below freezing temperatures. In the Southern US, we are most definitely not prepared to deal with this sort of thing. The mere mention of possible snow flurries sends hordes of panic-stricken shoppers to the grocery store buying up enough milk and bread to last them through the impending blizzard. However we southern folks are hardy enough to improvise and make the best of a situation. We'll just skip over those infamous "Hey y'all watch this!" moments that make their way to YouTube showcasing southern ingenuity at its not-so finest.
So I didn't have power, but I did have two things going for me: a gas fireplace and a gas water heater. Most would take that as I had a way to stay warm and hot water. That's just the beginning of what was to come. With the fireplace, I had a way to cook scrambled eggs for breakfast. (I have to admit I was only being a copycat on that one, my neighbor did that first. He's full of good ideas.) The grill outside at the same ingenious neighbor's house allowed us to heat up some chili and soup for lunch. My own grill became my freezer. Since it was already below cold enough outside, and my somewhat temporarily underpowered freezer was starting to show signs it would no longer keep its contents at a chilly four degrees, I bagged everything up that would fit and put it on the grill. The cold temperatures outside kept everything frozen and the lid to the grill would keep out any nosy hungry critters. Coolers with the remaining ice from the freezer kept the refrigerated contents chilled. As power gradually came back to restaurants around town, it provided those of us without such luxury a chance to escape the candlelit house for a hour or two to return to civilization. It also meant meeting up with family and friends, all of us taking our time and just enjoying the meal and socializing. It reminded me how it's easy to forget in all our daily hustle that sometimes it's nice to just relax and linger over a meal with good company. There wasn't any pressure to get back home, as none of us wanted to leave and go back to staring at the walls, waiting and hoping we were next in line for power to return.

There were some lessons to be learned, such as having a spare no-power-needed phone can be handy. It's useful know where to find a flashlight with working batteries. Using dry ice to keep the contents of the fridge or freezer cold is fine, just don't use the dry ice in the actual refrigerator. It will likely require repairs when the power returns. Also carbonated sodas will explode when stored with dry ice, causing your refrigerator to look like it's been shot. Thankfully, that lesson didn't occur in my kitchen, but lesson heeded either way.

That explains three days in January, and of course a few more after the storm passed as I then had three days of work to catch up, so we're up to six days. What about the other twenty-five? I did manage to make one trip to Mountain Home, Arkansas. That's a whole other story and another post.

I can only imagine the problems for those still waiting on power to return. It's been almost two weeks since the storm hit and there's quite a few out there with no power. I hope that it is restored soon and wish the best to those out there working long hours to make it happen.