Charlie Town

Make that Charleston, South Carolina. Only known as “Charlie” by the locals, and some students and alumni.

We took advantage of geography while visiting Savannah Georgia to take a short road trip up the coast to Charleston, another beautiful antebellum southern city. Charleston is older than Savannah, and quite different having grown “organically” to the needs of the growing population rather than being well planned out from the beginning like James Oglethorpe did in Savannah. Charleston saw a lot of action in the Civil War, and suffered lots of damage because of it, so it has an eclectic mix of old, “replacement”, and new architecture.

We started our tour off with brunch at The Park Café, an out-of-the-way small joint that came recommended to us, and the recommendation included “arrive early”. It’s a very popular, neighborhood place, but we got lucky with a parking spot right up front, and only a 10 minute wait. As we usually do, we ordered the house specialties: AEbelskiver (a Danish popover) and Avocado Toast. DEEEElish! I also chowed down on the house special Corned Beef Hash. It was also obvious where the name derived from, with the walls looking just like a park! The empty plate below is where the AEbelskiver USED to be. Yum!

The Park

Amazingly, The Park Cafe looks just lie a park!

Charleston seems much more popular than Savannah; it was much more crowded, and the Free Walking Tours were booked solid for all the time slots. We compensated by swiping the tour itinerary off the website, and pinning it into Google Maps. Then we conducted our own tour, on our own schedule! We picked up the pace a bit, blowing by the other tours, who spent way too much time explaining what a French Huguenot was. We didn’t really care all that much, and still don’t really know who or what they were, except that they have a church in Charleston (the pink one below) and we couldn’t have won the Revolutionary War without them. Thank you, Huguenots! I’m assuming that, being French, they liked doughnuts, and so I feel an affinity for them. I think that about a lot of cultures and doughnuts. Of course, the French weren’t the only ones with a church or two in town. There were a lot of Irish in Charleston too, and they must have attended St. Patrick’s Church (on the right below).

The old historic district of Charleston is dominated by the Charleston City Market, which is exactly what it sounds like, 3 blocks of tourist shopping. It used to be the heart and soul of colonial Charleston, and much of the surrounding coastline, but retains very little of the flavor of that age. Surrounding the market are countless sights, which on our custom-hacked walking tour was just a little over 1.5 miles, very compact. The day was warm at 82°F and 100% humidity, so we made our way to Battery Park, the site of the old fort built there to protect the city. The fort is gone now, but some nice monuments and a few remnants remain. I couldn’t imagine my boat getting hit by one of the cannonballs shot from a shore-side mortar. Those are some big balls!

One of our favorite things is to find a really, really old cemetery and read the tombstones. Charleston didn’t disappoint. This burial ground was found surrounding the Circle Church, belonging to yet another Protestant sect, and still in use. Many of the graves dated to the 1700’s.

Graveyard

Colonial optimism obviously didn’t pay out

No, this isn’t what it looks like. As in the other 2 cities on this visit, I noticed a pretty high density of cigar butts in the gutters. I realized that South Carolina is also Shade Tobacco country, and lots of cigars are still rolled about these parts. If only folks would learn to put them where they belong, I wouldn’t have constantly been all “Look OUT!”, only to then realize someone had just failed to curb their cigar properly.

Gutter Butt

Winding back along the water front, we wound up at the Pineapple Fountain. The Pineapple is the state symbol of South Carolina, although we never for sure found out if they grow them there. They sure grew a lot of cotton and rice! Also on the waterfront is a pier with three covered verandas that have large swings in them so a tired tourist (or two) can take a break and enjoy the expansive water views, just imagining the old days when this harbor was full of sailing warships and fishing boats.

Wendy was excited to find Queen Street, while we were standing on King Avenue. That put us in the French Quarter, which looked a whole bunch like New Orleans. Those French sure liked a specific kind of architecture, along with their doughnuts. There might also have been some teensy French people there, because we found this old-world Tiny House on the outskirts of the French Quarter, dwarfed by some of the “replacement architecture” that sprang up after the neighbor’s homes were either burned or fell into ruins. The Three Little Pigs were right, or at least one of them was: brick houses rule!

We dined at the Charleston Crab House, which we managed to get into just before the skies opened up on us. The building is historic, which becomes obvious as you walk the wooden floors and climb the original wooden staircase. The food and service are excellent. We wolfed down the fried blue crabs, which are eaten whole shell and all since they are harvested while molting and still soft-shelled. Yummy, and not too pricey. End of the day’s road trip, back to Savannah!

Tippy liked Charleston too, and discovered an alternative to the outrageous parking fees!

Charleston Park Cafe

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Savannah!

For Memorial Day this year we took the flying RV, Alaska Airlines, to The Low Country on the eastern seaboard. We made Savannah Georgia our home base, booking 4 nights at The River Street Inn, right in the heart of the original colonial settlement, and literally on top of the original cobblestones that paved the walks and paths of the waterfront. The River Street Inn is built around the foundations of the original cotton processing warehouse on the riverfront.

One of Many

A fun fact: the cobblestones in the streets and sidewalks, which are large, clunky chunks of granite and other rock types, were used as ballast to stabilize the freight in the holds of sailing ships of colonial times. Once their wares were delivered to the new lands, the load-stabilizing ballast wasn’t needed any more, and was dumped ashore to make roads and paths. Mind you, they aren’t too terribly easy to walk on, but are really effective at keeping the speed of cars down below 2 mph.

We discovered Free Walking Tours, a company that does business in most large cities. You pay $2 to reserve a spot, and then take the tour, deciding at the end of it what tip the docent deserves for the job they have done (typical is between $10 and $20). Our tour guide was a student at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), majoring in Architecture and History, and she was excellent. Very entertaining, chock full of historical tidbits, and also very up to date on the best places to get a cheap bite to eat, some rockin’ night life, or great ice cream (my favorite). Our tour included a downpour (see photo below) and a stop at the Merritt Webster House, which was the real life home of Jim Williams (played by Kevin Spacey) in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. A ton of movies were filmed, wholly are in part, in Savannah, including the famous bench-sitting scene in Forrest Gump. The actual bench is right there in Jefferson Square, but there was a line to take a photo, so we skipped it. There were plenty of other benches that looked exactly the same, but by the time we noticed, the thrill was gone, and we moved on.

During the downpour

We were entranced by the historical tale of James Oglethorpe, who founded Savannah, and how he managed to talk 114 Debtor’s Prison candidates into coming to the New World with him in exchange for freedom from their debts and some land. But he found out how fast that 114 could shrink to about 50, losing most to drunken fights or disease: about 1 year. So he set down some rules: 1. No hard liquor, which he reasoned would help to hold down the fights; 2. No lawyers, same reasoning; 3. No Catholics and 4. No Jews, his colonists were almost all Protestant Christians, so let’s try to avoid the religious in-fighting, 5. No slaves, Oglethorpe was an abolitionist, and remained so his entire life. The rules didn’t hold though, and began to fall apart when the only doctor left to return to England, and his replacement was a Jew. This Jew must have also been very prolific because today Savannah has a fairly large Jewish population. The local synagogue, Mickve Israel, throws a big community food fest every October in Forsyth Park called “Shalom Y’All!” You can even buy a t-shirt!

Shalom YAll

SCAD, the Savannah College of Art & Design, has a huge presence in town, and all over the coastal southern states. While we were visiting, their women’s golf team won the National Collegiate Golf Tourney, and one of the team members won the individual National Title. I’m not sure SCAD has any other athletic teams or endeavors.

Our trip was as much about the food as it was about the history. We absolutely loved 2 Cracked Eggs, a breakfast and lunch place right on the riverfront. Christine, the owner, previously owned The Cobblestone Restaurant up the road, but lost her lease when they converted the building for other use. The grits are fantastic, and everything is served in a cast iron skillet, of all differing sizes. The first morning Wendy opted to lace her grits with the house mixed berry jam. I had the house specialty, White Trash Hash. The biscuits were the best I’ve ever had, and one could easily feed 3 people. Everybody gets one for themselves, of course, so I felt obligated to finish mine.

Barracuda Bobs on the river front was good seafood, and we opted to share the Southern Seafood Boil, with shrimp, mussels, crab, corn, and potatoes. Very yummy! We opened that act with a bowl of their Seafood Stew, a sort of bouillabaisse, and another of Clam Chowder, also very yummy.

Our last night there we partook of The Crab Shack on Tybee Island, about 30 minutes east of Savannah, and right on the Atlantic coast. This place looks like an old moonshiners camp, found by driving down a road, which turns to gravel, then turns to dirt, then just dead ends in a swamp with cars parked all over the place under trees. A bunch of wooden shacks have sprung up over the years, and they have a huge deck right on the slough, with round tables that sport a central hole with a trash can underneath. Pretty handy for seafood, just crack, eat, and chuck the shells! We gorged on shrimp, corn, crab, scallops, crayfish, slaw, and chowder. We also paid the pet alligator pen a visit on the way out. I got the feeling that’s where you get tossed if you don’t pay the bill. Highly recommended, The Crab Shack, for both food and ambiance, and very reasonably priced!

Tippy even does Savannah tips!

Savannah Elevators

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Deception Pass Redux

AT LAST – SUMMER!

DECEPTION PASS STATE PARK

We planned, many months ago, a weekend of camping to honor the Mothers in our family. We snagged a very nice site at Deception Pass State Park in the Forest Loop, a section of the park that has electricity and running water in each site, with many sites able to accommodate larger RVs. A word of advice: make plans to camp in ANY Washington State Park very early in the year, and get online to get your reservations. The exception to this rule is for mid-week camping, not including any weekend nights.

We waited out the weather all spring, a little concerned since our previous 3 trips had all involved packing up the trailer in the rain. But Mr. Weatherman delivered, and how! We arrived Saturday May 12 and got set up under brilliant and clear blue skies, with temps in the upper 60’s to low 70’s, perfectly ideal for 5 adults and 2 grandkids. We even found 2 trees exactly 10 feet apart that accommodated setting up our new hammock, and boy did we appreciate that.

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We took a very nice, easy hike down to West Beach, a little over ½ mile, and enjoyed some sand toy fun and kicking back. We walked back at dinner time, made a cheery fire, barbecued some sliders, and got the kids bundled up to take in the sunset, which didn’t disappoint with a spectacular show over Lopez Island. A perfect opportunity for Greg to get some silhouette photos for the annual Marks Family calendar. Simon got into the act, snapping what seemed like hundreds of shots with Dad’s old Canon SLR. His Dad uses a technique to “bracket” shots with 3 exposures, having a better chance at getting the right one. And Simon picked up on that, snapping 3 shots for every try, although they aren’t brackets, more like duplicates. But what a pro! He takes some amazing shots for an almost-five-year-old!

Sunday, actual Mother’s Day, arrived to a whole group of really well rested family, which we were glad to see because it was the first time camping with a full load, especially 2 small ones. But it all worked as planned, and we made a giant breakfast with pancakes, sausage, eggs, Canadian bacon, OJ, Bailey’s in the coffee, and leftover flan brownies (thanks Andrea!).

We took advantage of the beautiful day and drove up to Pass Island, that little rock between the 2 bridges over Deception Pass. Watching the rising and ebbing tide push all that ocean through the narrow gorge never fails to fascinate me, and bunches of boats were fighting their way through, from small outboards to the Victoria Clipper. Very cool.

After lunch, Grandma helped the little ones make some special dinosaur cookies for Simon’s impending birthday party at Science School. He turned 5 on Monday, and treated all his schoolmates at the Pacific Science Center day school to some of Grandma’s finest, frosted, Dino Fossil Cookies.

Post-cookie-making, we took a ride out to West Beach and set up camp on the small beach area at the far west end of Cranberry Lake while Greg and Rachel inflated and launched the paddle boards. With the warm sun, and the flat water, it was a perfect day to commune with nature and take a tour of the lake. Simon and Samara took turns swimming in the shallow beach and hitching rides on the boards with Mom and Dad. And Grandpa kicked back in his beach chair to take it all in, very very relaxing. There were at least 2 goose families with newly hatched broods in flotilla formation cruising the same end of the lake as the beach.

Deception Pass SP is a great place to camp, whether you have a hard-sided rig, or a tent. There are 2 separate loops, with the Forest Loop more oriented toward RVs while the Lower Forest Loop is a mix of tent and RV sites. All of the RV sites have power (50 Amp) and water, while the tent only sites have access to water nearby. Online reservations can be made, and should be made very early in the year; the reservation system https://washington.goingtocamp.com has photos of each site to help you decide which is just right for you. With recent raises to rates, state parks are becoming similarly priced to private campgrounds, but only a state park can offer a better wilderness experience!

As always, H E R E ‘ S   T I P P Y!

Pine Cones for Campfire

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BAY VIEW STATE PARK

We’ve been RVing up a storm since taking delivery of the new rig. We will, eventually, devise a nifty name for our camper, but for now the muse has not struck (stricken?, straked? Grammarians this is your chance!). This is our third campout in as many weeks, and it should just about be enough to get all the bugs and kinks worked out.

We camped this time in Bay View State Park, on Padilla Bay in the North Salish Sea, with a stunning view of the Tesoro Oil Refinery. Actually, it isn’t too bad, there are lots of great vistas to all sides of it, and a very pleasant body of water between us to enjoy. There was a nice, but rocky, beach attached to the park that afforded us with a nice morning walk, and some Sea Glass hunting.

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There is a really nice covered picnic area also, with benches and tables where we found an old Canadian gentleman who was making his breakfast on a camp stove, and just enjoying the day, eh?

Historical Note: Last November, flying back from San Francisco after a family Thanksgiving, we met a very pleasant guy named Daren. He had recently moved to Lummi (rhymes with yummy) Island, which is near Bellingham, and was in the process of taming a 5 acre parcel of mountainside so that he could build a Tiny House to live in.

Wendy kept in touch with him via Facebook, and since Bay View is reasonably close to Bellingham (at least a lot closer than our home), we decided that Sunday would be a good time to take advantage of his offer to “come on up and visit if you’re in the neighborhood”. We had only seen Lummi Island from the water side, having circumnavigated it many years ago during one of our summer trips to Orcas Island. So off we went to see the INSIDE of the island. And Wendy will pretty much go anywhere to see a Tiny House. A 40 minute drive to Bellingham, 10 minutes down a 2 lane road across the Indian reservation, and we arrived at Gooseberry, where the small car ferry waited to take us on a 6 minute crossing.

Ferry cropped

Lummi has about 800 full time residents. The only tourist activities are biking, hiking, and kayaking. Unless your idea of tourism is fancy dining, in which case you can make a reservation at The Willows, the most expensive restaurant in the Northwest; average price per person for dinner is around $400.

The Willows

There are plenty of very wealthy folks on Lummi, but Daren assures us none of them will pay Piracy Rates to eat at The Willows.

On arrival, Daren met us at The Islander, the very small, and only, market on the island, quite close to the ferry landing. Proximity to the ferry landing is a good thing, because there aren’t any public restrooms at The Islander, one in need must walk across the street to the loo at the ferry landing. After a great tour of the island, which didn’t take very long, Daren took us up to see his property, and his almost finished Tiny House. You can see Vancouver downtown, skyscrapers and all, from his front yard.

Daren has been clearing this property for a year, and has barely made a dent. There are berry bushes everywhere, but also found in abundance is Stinging Nettle. Daren turned us onto the fact that he regularly makes soup out of it, and it’s delish! Wendy couldn’t resist, so we loaded up a grocery bag with tender tops to take with. Important Note: always – ALWAYS – wear gloves when handling this stuff! We found a recipe on Google, and made some for dinner Monday night. It’s very, very good, kind of like a spinach-leek soup with a side benefit of having all kinds of medicinal benefits for indigestion, arthritis, and migraines.

Nettle Soup 1

We ate lunch at Sause Burger, next door to The Islander. Same deal with the restroom, a short hike across the street. Sause Burger is owned by Herb, and we were fortunate that it was open when we were visiting. Sometimes it’s open for a few hours 3 days a week. Sometimes not. And it’s closed most of the winter. But it’s worth a try if you get to Lummi, the food is excellent and the host is charming. Bring your appetite! Daren and I each had a house specialty, the Solomon Burger. It is the brainchild of some Islander named, go figure, Solomon. And I can only think that Solomon must spend a great deal of his day thinking about food. The burger, made with ½ pound of Wagyu beef (and seemingly everything else in the kitchen) was, no kidding, 6” tall when served. It took 40 minutes to eat. Wow! It is served on a Breadfarm bun, and if you have never been to The Breadfarm in Edison, make a date and go. You can have a nice brunch just down the street at Tweets Café, another fabulous foodie spot. We, of course, not only took Daren a house warming gift of a ½ loaf of Stone Ground Wheat (after all it IS a tiny house), but took the other ½ of that and a Ciabatta loaf home ourselves. Yumm!

Back “home” at Bay View, we camped in Site 28 in The Meadows, one of 2 areas with utilities that can accommodate RVs. The other RV area is “up front” in the park, with views of the bay. There are also a couple of areas just for smaller vehicles and tent camping. It is all very well taken care of, and even looks to be under some expansion and upgrading. All the RV sites have 50 and 30 amp power, water hookups, a fire pit, and a picnic table. This time, I figured out how to use our new Progressive power surge protector to sniff out the power and tell me if it was good or not before I hooked up the rig.

Progressive SSP-50XL Surge Protector

I’m obviously liking some of the technology improvements that have become popular since we last owned an RV, especially my new Hitch Camera! Backing and hitching suddenly got much easier.

In the Meadow, all the sites are cut back into the forest around a large central grass area. Most of them, #28 included, aren’t very deep and it made for a challenge to get the rig backed in near to the utilities without driving too far out into the swamped grass area. Thank God for 4 wheel drive.

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As we always do, we scouted all the other sites, and next time we’ll shoot for #24, which was nice and deep, on a corner with a great approach for backing in, and a campfire area that is tucked away from the road for a little evening privacy.

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As always, H E R E “ S   T I P P Y!

Water Thief

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MAIDEN VOYAGE PART DEUX – DECEPTION PASS

A note to our subscribers: We have upgraded to our own blog domain and can now be found at https://muddscape.com. No more ads! You were automatically re-registered as a follower, so keep on keepin’ on!

You will notice the nice jazzy new banner picture. This was taken Easter Day at Deception Pass State Park in Washington. We are here for a 3 day stay, and hoping that the weather, if not warm, will at least stay dry. Like they say, it’s Spring in Washington. If you don’t like the weather, wait 15 minutes.

We camped this time in the Forest Loop, above Cranberry Lake, which sits on the southern border of the park. Like almost all State Parks, Deception Pass is a wonderful woodland setting, with some large old growth trees and lots and lots of foliage. The sites are cut into the forest to give a good amount of privacy, and in the Forest Loop each has 30 and 50 Amp electric and water hookups, although our 50 amp power source had one pole dead. (For those not familiar with a 50 amp service, it is “two-sided” with parallel 120 volt poles, as opposed to a single 120 volt pole for 30 amp service). With one pole dead, we only got shore power on about ½ of our interior devices; unfortunately the fireplace/heater was one of them! We switched our plugin over to the 30 amp source, and all was fine.

The weather, while dry, was very windy, blowing 20-30 knots and gusting higher. It made for some pretty spectacular shoreline viewing, if you could stand the sand-blasting.

Blustery Sound

Our tryouts of all the goodies continued, and we quickly came to the conclusion that the TV that came with the rig, a 39” Furrion, was inadequate for the mission. It will be replaced by a Vizio 39” smart TV we found on eBay for $199. When we finally get the Camp Pro Wi-Fi Booster installed (stay tuned), they will be an excellent combo for us to stay in touch with all our evening favorites. The existing Furrion DVD/Stereo has Bluetooth, so we can stream all our music off our phones.

Camp Pro 2

One drawback to Deception Pass is the close proximity of NAS Whidbey, the Navy air station where the Pacific Fleet of F-18 “Growlers” is based. These are the electronic warfare birds, and a lot of flight training and testing goes on. Sunday’s are usually OK, and Monday only had a pilot doing touch-and-go landings in a C17, the largest jet in the sky. Tuesday morning was a different story, and brought a 2 hour long blast of supersonic birds blasting over the campground about 1000 feet up, full afterburner. It’s thrilling, but one soon tires of it.

There are several trails within the campground and surrounding park, all connecting the south bridge to both campgrounds and North and West beaches. We easily got a 3 mile walk in every day and saw something new each time.

Bridge Close

We even took a ride into Oak Harbor, 8 miles south, to scope out the local hardware store, a favorite of ours. This time was Country Hardware, right on State Route 20. We hit the small window of time where they had ducklings and chicks of many varieties for sale. Being city folk, we get a kick out of all the gear and goodies for sale for the farm. And they even had both pink and black BB guns for sale, for boys AND girls. Very progressive!

Ducklings 1BB Guns

There aren’t too many bad spots in the park, and we really liked #34. We are coming back for Mother’s Day with kids and grandkids, and will stay in site 71, which is even more private and very deep. We’ll let you know how that goes!

Site 71-1

50A Power Problems

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Muddscape 2.0 – Maiden Voyage

The new Muddscape machine made its debut on March 24 at Lake Ki RV Resort near Arlington, Washington (www.lakekiresort.com). We wanted to take a short trip, very local, to shake down all the systems in the new rig, a 2018 Venture SportTrek 252VRD, before we undertook longer and farther trips. We will shortly update the banner picture above to reflect that we SOLD the boat, and “traded up” to the trailer!

Front Quarter View Transparent

The ability to test the shore power and water hookups in real time (extension cord – check; water hose – check; wheel chocks – check; leveling blocks – check), as well as all the “boondocking” gear like battery power, onboard water supply (water – check), and propane heater (propane – check), seemed like a good idea, especially since we would be camped just a few miles from Halterman’s RV, where we bought it. It also seemed smart to make sure we at least had the essentials for setting up and camping. When we sold our last rig, the one we lived in for a couple of years, neither Wendy or I could remember what we gave away with it and what we kept, so we didn’t know what to hunt for in the garage.

The shakedown cruise setup went super. Thanks to some late hour digging in the archives of old camping stuff, Amazon Prime, and a Lowe’s Hardware just down the street, we had everything we needed to set up and get camping. That certainly doesn’t mean we won’t be dipping back into the Amazon pool for more stuff, just that we had at least the bare essentials. I already have a pretty extensive list of new “essentials”, like a WiFi Signal Booster and a Backup Camera! As we requisition and install these future goodies, we promise to report back here!

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We couldn’t resist inviting a few family members out to visit on Sunday, since they were all so close. When we first set up, there were 2 Canadian families camped next to us. On Sunday morning, they got up early and started a nice campfire, but it burned too long into the day, so they “gifted” it to us when they pulled out before lunch. We kept stoking all the extra firewood they had left into it, getting it to last until all the kiddos arrived. I’ve never met a small child that didn’t just love a campfire.

We ended up with 5 grandkids and 3 more adults, for a total of 10 of us. That gave us a good test for human capacity in the rig, and with the 2 opposing slide-outs we had plenty of room for all to chomp down a hearty burrito dinner.

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If anyone gets interested in visiting Lake Ki, the “little sister” to Lake Goodwin, I highly recommend Lake Ki RV Resort. It has mostly a long-term residential populace, but maintains several nice transient sites right down near the lake, with a great dock for fishing, a play structure for the kids, and a nice beach with a float you can swim out to. The trout fishing is reported to be quite good, especially in spring and very early summer. My favorite site is P16, easy to back into and right next to a large open area; P15 is a good next choice. Both sites include 30 amp shore power, a reasonably level pad, and a sewer hookup, for about $40/night.

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Next trip, 3 days at Deception Pass State Park over Easter!

And last, but not least, Tippy returns!

Hi Dan

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LA got nuthin’ on Seattle

A few times each year we make the big schlep down the west coast to LA to visit the southern branch of the family, and especially the grandkids. June is an especially fun trip, mostly because there is so much going on. And 2015 was no exception! This trip had all the hallmarks of a real MuddScape adventure, so we thought we’d share.

Of course, booking all your tickets in advance is frugal advice. And, along with that, booking a car on one of the billions of websites available for this is also a good idea. Priceline did us a solid on this, getting us a car for $17.99 per day at PayLess Car Rental. Sounds like a pretty good deal, until you see the taxes and fees that Burbank airport piggybacks onto the deal. It ended up costing us almost twice that. Sigh. But, it came with some entertainment, so I shouldn’t complain.

At first, we couldn’t even FIND the Payless counter, although there were plenty of signs pointing us in the right direction. It turns out that Avis and Budget co-own Payless (sounds like part of a global evil mastermind), and 6” of the end of the Avis counter has the Payless check-in and return desk, accompanied by a small vertical cardboard sign announcing this, and a young college student as a clerk. When we finally found it, 2 elderly women were in-process with their rental, and at the same time barraging the youngster with every imaginable question they could think of about Burbank, mostly about driving and weather. As it turns out, they are staying at the hotel across the street, and will likely put about ½ mile on the odometer, but who knew? Anyway, when they finish it’s our turn (at last!). But wait, there has been a call on hold and our plucky clerk needs to take that call before he can help us. By now being more than a little frustrated, we listen in on the call to anticipate how long it will last. Mr. Clerk listens diligently for almost a minute, then responds “Gosh, I’m sorry to hear that.” Then he listens again for another very long minute, and this time his response really gets our attention: “Ma’am, just how does you getting asked to take a sobriety test become our problem?” The call went progressively downhill from there, but Mr. Clerk handled it very politely and resolved it by extending the caller’s rental period by 2 more days, presumably until she could get dried out and bailed out. And he even offered to extend it at the same $10.99 discounted daily rate! Not done yet, Ms. DUI squawks on for another minute, to which Mr. Clerk replies, “No Ma’am, we can’t discount that rate by another $3 per day just because you won’t be using the car.” I have to admin, I admire her pluck. With that call ended, we finally take a full 30 seconds to complete our transaction and head to our car, much to the relief of the long line that has formed behind us.

This experience in itself would have made this a memorable trip. But there are 3 other highlights to the trip worth mentioning. The first, and the primary reason for the timing of our trip, was the birthday party for Dylan, our nearly 6 year old grandson. Mom and Dad set it up at a new party place called the Glow Zone, and let me tell you, this place parties down for young kids! One room had 2 banks of Nerf ball cannons for a 15 minute 6,000 decibel non-lethal war. Other rooms had laser tag, miniature golf, an elevated beam trail (with safety harnesses, of course), and a laser maze, all illuminated by black lights and painted in bright fluorescent colors. Pump the kids up with pizza and cake, and turn them loose, and you will have a good idea what a prison riot looks like. We had a ton of fun.

A very memorable highlight, from a grandparent’s point of view, was attending the Mathletes Award Ceremony. Our 12 year old grandson, Brandon, has been a Mathlete for the last 2 years, and this year he really took away the bling! There are a number of contests each Mathlete can enter each year, and the granddaddy of them all is the Mathlete Olympiad (appropriately named I think). Along with all his other certificates and merit badges, Brandon was called up to accept a certificate for placing in the top 5% of all national Olympiad participants. Before he could make it back to his seat, he was called back to accept a small trophy for placing in the top 1% nationally for his age group. But wait, there’s more! He was asked to stay up at the podium, and then presented with a larger, prettier trophy for placing #1, the TOP student in his grade, in the nation. Nobody was aware of any of the results in advance, and his entire family was stunned. And very, very proud. Who knew we had an uber-Nerd in our midst? Congratulations Brandon!

Speaking of uber, the last highlight was my sudden revelation about that new global cab-killing sensation. I imagined a new uber category that, if I can get a small slice of the multi-trillion dollar value of the whole thing, will indeed make me rich and important. Let me explain.

On our recent trip to New York City, we used uberX, the very affordable smart-phone-summoned car service that features comfy, regular cars with English speaking drivers that don’t smell like a slaughterhouse from Karachi, to get from JFK airport to our hotel in Greenwich Village. Quick, cheap, clean, and slick.

uberX, the Low Cost uber

uberX, the Low Cost uber

We were also introduced to uber Black, only because an uber Black driver happened to pick us up as an uberX fare since he wasn’t busy. He smelled faintly of Old Spice, nice! And picked us up in a shiny black Escalade.

uber Black, the Look-Like-Someone-Important uber

uber Black, the Look-Like-Someone-Important uber

But while we were in LA, particularly when we were in West Hollywood for dinner, I had a brainchild that was born out of nearly getting run over in a crosswalk by a local. When uber-cool is called for, how about uber Low?

uberLow, when just any other ride won't do!

uberLow, when just any other ride won’t do!

If you aren’t in a hurry, and you’re looking to be looked at, nothing tops low riding. I’m thinking this just may be the perfect ride to take a Mathlete to his prom, right Homes?

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