Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A Surprise Around Every Corner

Legal Notice: White Castle, Slyders, Cravetime, Sackful (?) (and any other Official Fingerpoint "their" way) are registered trademarks, service marks and every other kind of mark you can think of.


In 1996, I had the pleasure of serving as a celebrity judge for White Castle Hamburger's Fifth Annual Cravetime Recipe Contest held at White Castle headquarters in Columbus Ohio. Although I've accomplished many things, this Really Impressed my sons, one who even received--and LIKED--a pair of glow-in-the-dark White Castle boxer shorts for Christmas. (I discovered they still sell them, but only in a size small.) In fact, my sons were so impressed that they joined me in Columbus for the extravaganza, traveling all the way from Minnesota and New Mexico. (Likely because they thought they might get free stuff, which they did not.) Among my lifetime traveling memories, this mom-and-sons journey is near the top. We laughed, we explored. They shot a few pics of Mom The WC Judge. A good time was had by all.

If you haven't guessed by now, I love White Castles (current personal fav the jalepeno burger), and so do they. Since my permanent residence is in the western suburbs of Chicago (and since I no longer have my gallbladder), I can grab a Sackful any time I want (which is perhaps why I have no gallbladder). When my sons come to visit, guaranteed we HAVE to make a Slyder run. But when I'm in Winona Minnesota, where I go hide to work on book projects, well, Dream on, Charlene.

But WAIT! As surprising as the devastating floods that ripped through the Winona area a few weeks ago, so, too, is what my grown son discovered today in a vending machine at his place of business in Winona. You guessed it: SLYDERS! "Which didn't taste too bad! Of course they were $1.75 for the two, but worth it!" he reported in a news bulletin e-mail. After rigorous investigation (okay, an after-work phone call), I learned the cheeseburgers came in a two-pack, sans pickles. A shot in the microwave, and OH, BABY!

This, of course, got me to cravin' them burgers, but since I'm currently "cutting back," I decided to toodle around the White Castle website and salivate while pretending to eat a couple bites, which, if you've ever consumed one, you already know is a whole burger. I was going to herewith insert a few of my fav hyperlinks to the totally fun stuff I discovered there, but the fine print FORBIDS HYPERLINKS without prior written conscent. However, I trust you can figure out how to find a few tidbits for yourself. (It also forbids me MENTIONING them without permission, but some things don't make any sense to me, and this is one of them.)

Moving along (and hopefully not to jail), as surprising as discovering Slyders in a vending machine in Winona MN, so, too, was the tornado warning that rang throughout the hospital two days after my husband's second knee replacement, which took place on the 21st of this month. If you're ever on the fifth floor of a hospital when a "code black" is announced over the PA system, seek shelter. Never mind the open gown, just do what they say, which in his case was to stay in bed while they rolled him around. Talk about a traveling laugh!

Those same storms wiped out our electricity the day before he was released, so we ended up having his CPM machine delivered to our temporary residence at the local Hampton Inn.

Gads. Even when I'm not on the road, I end up in a hotel, which was only two blocks from the place I've decided I better not mention again (I feel the WC Man sneaking up on me as I type), but it smells like steamed onions and their website currently states that their full nutritional information is "under construction."

Make of that what you will. Personally, I'm spending my days trying to deconstruct my thighs, made all the thigh-ier from those five-holed wonders. At least I thought when I went to Winona I could escape the lure of the little square burgers, but now . . . now I'm already saving my quarters. I mean, if I only have two teensy cheesburgers without those undoubtedly high caloried and sodium-laden pickles, what harm can come of that?

Okay, my hunger pangs have just declared a "code black." Time to go grab the bag of carrots.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Signs Along The Way

Whether I’m traveling between our permanent residence in Illinois and my book-writing hideaway in Minnesota, or business-tripping my way across the country (or out of it), it’s come to my attention that signs are often obvious, but sometimes not.

For instance, once right after checking into a hotel, I located the elevator and scurried to my room to use the “facilities.” (Okay, I often engage in this procedure, but this time I’m talking about this once.) As I flipped the seat cover up, I noticed a sign on the toilet lid. “No lifeguard on duty.”

What?! This WARNING caused me to shoot a double-take at the size of the toilet! GADS! Surely it’s not that big! And if it is, I’m just gonna have to dive in to do my business since I’m desperate!

After eyeballing the toilet and determining it was safe to plop down, I ultimately decided the toilet was also standard issue. So what was up with the location of that sign? While utilizing my standard procedure to unpack my bag (1. toss nightgown on bed 2. lay out cosmetics; 3. iron tomorrow’s outfit), my mind twiddled the possibilities. Although I figured I knew, one can't be too careful when on the road. Eventually I headed out to my business meeting and forgot all about the oddity. However, that evening, after I grabbed a bath towel off the rack , I was able to decode the encrypted-by-misplacement warning when I discovered another sign screwed to the wall - previously hidden by the towel - which politely instructed me not to take my room towels to the swimming pool.

Placement is everything, ey?

On several occasions I’ve noticed a scary sign or two at the check-in desk, the type that instruct, or “highly recommend ,” guests not leave the hotel lobby after dark without an escort, and/or announce that security cameras are in place 24/7. Believe you me, I don’t have to read those signs twice. When the check-in folks notice my bulging eyes and raised eyebrows, depending upon the number of stars in the hotel’s listing, I’m either instructed to “Walk in a group” or offered the company of a security guard. Obey, I do.

I remember well the first time in 1995 that I drove in England and hit the outskirts of a little town outside Manchester. Just about the time the two-way road shrunk from narrow to impossibly narrow, there posted along the roadside was a sign displaying our familiar circle with a line through it, the one that overlays, oh, say, a left-hand arrow so you know it means "NO LEFT TURN." However, this sign simply had the circle with the line through it. I yelled to the heavens, “Don’t what?! DON’T WHAT?!” Did it mean don’t enter? I hit the brakes and the car behind me nearly rammed me before zipping around me, horn blaring. Not until later that evening was I told that the sign meant "END OF SPEED ZONE," which gives motorists permission to - and oh, baby, do they! - hammer down. And remember, that’s just when the road narrows to what looks to be a half-car short of two cars wide. Oy. But if you check this link now, it says that sign means NO PARKING. I'm wondering if England's since changed the meaning of that sign (due to folks like me), or if the sign I saw (no color in the background, just white) has been discontinued (due to folks like ME), or if a local was just pulling my leg. Anybody out there know what the circle with the line through it (white background) meant back in 1995?

My favorite “two-fer” signs in a category I’ll call “Things Tourists Need to Know” was also located in England. Each sign was posted on the same wall inside a highly trafficked historic site. One arrow pointed left, the other right. To the left, "CASTLE." To the right, "TOILETS." Well now, that pretty much covered the bases. I found this worth a picture, which was the only shot I took during that tour. Go figure.

But here's what caused my most recent guffawing over signage, which I shall categorize as a cluster of signs. The first in the "grouping" was a six-inch, hand-made plaster sign purchased by me at a craft fair. I long ago hung it in my MN writing hideout on the wall behind the toilet. (I placed it where I’m guaranteed to see it - often.) “Lord, Help me through the changes in my life.” (That’s not the funny part.) Shortly thereafter, a hand-printed message on a Post-It note appeared on the wall right next to it. George, my retired engineer of a husband, had, in his unmistakably tidy all bold caps, printed, "MAKE SURE TOILET ISN’T RUNNING." (Signage note not funny, but the placement sure tickled my laugh-o-meter since it occurred to me that should God’s printing look like George’s, perhaps God cares about - and answers - more pleas concerning everyday and practical “changing” things than we might imagine! Talk about your "signs!")

My most recent visit, however, was the first time I noticed an addendum to the bottom of the Post-It note, which is what really set me to laughing. Since both of our grown sons and our landlord write in an untidy combo of print and cursive, it’s hard to tell whose stealth mind induced the smart-aleck question. “Why? Is that too fast for it?”

Now, I realize this is a great joke for five-year-olds, but still, the entire string of messages cracked me up. But I also just (as in just) noticed that the majority of my stories in this post are about bathroom humor. Hey, if only I’d included poop, this entire message would be guaranteed to hurl the youngsters into fits of howling. (I laughed just typing poop! HAHAHAHAHA - laughing AGAIN!)

Then again, if YOU laughed when you read the four-letter P word, let me know and I will heretofore make adjustments in my future posts, figuring that I’ve also heretopreviously misjudged my target market.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Planning a back-up plan

Thinking back, deciding to travel with only one credit card was a dumb plan. Okay, not a dumb plan, per se, but it was a plan without a backup plan--which is The Dumbest plan of all, especially for a business traveler whose ability to move about often depends on that card.

The dumb plan (since replaced) evolved after my fanny pack, containing my wallet with a fistful of credit cards inside, was lifted during a vacation. Thank goodness we were on our way home when this happened. We were, in fact, waiting in a long, jostling taxi line (BEWARE!) outside a Vegas hotel to catch a ride to the airport when the theft occurred. However, it sure slam-banged our reentry home since we spent days canceling cards from this store and that, hoping we hadn't forgotten any of them. But that first call from the airport to cancel The Main credit card was the worst since it took place under a time-traveling gun, and involved the police.

After much discussion, a new plan evolved: don't replace all the store cards; just use one card for everything and accrue air miles, or gasoline rebates, or whatever.

Fast forward a couple years and join me on the day this new plan failed.

I am in Atlanta attending a several-day conference, but today I have to fly a round-trip from here to Orlando. I'm presenting on a fiction panel at the American Library Association's annual convention. Also today, George is leaving from our home in Illinois to visit our son in Minnesota.

I take a cab from my Atlanta hotel to the airport. I pay with my credit card, exit the cab and walk about twenty paces toward the door when I get this niggling feeling. I stop, check my wallet and . . . no credit card! The driver didn't hand it back to me. Moreover, I left the cab before I made sure he did. Head-whap! I am responsible.

I run back to the curb, but alas, he is gone. I call the cab company (number still keyed into my cell phone) and report the incident, hoping they can send the driver back around the loop with my card. Call transfers. Gotta wait for lost and found. Disconnect. Call back. Yadda-yadda. Blah, blah, blah. Pleads. Clock ticking. My plane now departs in less than forty minutes; I cannot wait to see if it "shows up." I am struck with a hard reality: I have to cancel the card and head toward the plane.

While I'm talking to the credit card person, I try using a self check-in kiosk to obtain my boarding pass. No go. I have to chug to the counter line. Without my credit card, which, no matter what else I try (airline numbers etc.), the machine simply won't recognize me.


The check-in line is . . . not moving. Seems everyone has a problem today. By the time I get to the security line, I'm still talking to the credit card company while stripping myself of the necessities. I say into the receiver, "Hold on!" I sure don't want to lose her now. "I'm not hanging up! I'm setting my open phone down in a plastic bin. I'll catch you in a moment, I hope." God bless the small miracles, since she's still there, both of us having passed through the dreaded scan without incident.

I pull on my shoes while finishing the cancelation conversation, then we discuss how I can get a replacement card over-nighted to me. I don't have much cash with me; I still have several big-ticket dinners to attend; I'll need a working card to check out of my hotel day after tomorrow. I've run up quite a bill. These plans are put in place while I'm breathlessly scurrying to my gate. Thank goodness I'm only lugging my purse!

While I'm in the boarding line, I call my husband. He's on his way to Minnesota when he receives the news that he's now temporarily without a valid credit card. "Stop at the cash station," I tell him, followed by several rounds of "I am so sorry! I HATE when I do stuff like this!" He's heard it all before. I always mean it; he always forgives.

New Plan. We need to have two credit cards, one to keep for a backup so we don't ever get stranded like this again. But the logistics are problematic. If I carry them both in my wallet and my wallet disappears . . . . If I leave one at home, what good will that do? And what type of a backup card makes the most sense?

After much haranguing around, we decide to get a gasoline rebate card. We'll make it a Visa rather than another MasterCard. I'll carry one in my wallet and one in my carry-on. When I'm not traveling, I'll keep one in my wallet and one in my handbag. But what if my handbag gets ripped off or I leave it somewhere? The whole purse isn't as likely to disappear as a wallet (right?), but still, when I'm home, the possibility causes me to leave the backup gas card in my glove compartment so I for sure have it with me when I purchase gas. Eventually we decide this plan is perhaps the dumbest plan of all since I never remember to take it out of the glove compartment when I travel.

NEXT BUSINESS TRIP: I put the backup card in the outside zipper compartment of my carryon bag, then, due to overcrowding on the plane and a high boarding group number, I am forced to gate check that bag. I don't think about the card until 25,000 feet. (Feel my obsessing, racing heart.) And how's this for Murphy's Law in action? The announcement is made that gate checked bags will not be waiting for us as we deplane; they'll be at carousel number whatever. I can barely breathe until I get to my hotel and discover the card is still there. Another miracle.

I'm sure our backup plan is lacking something obvious here, but what is it? Can someone please help us out? If we keep thinking we need yet another backup card for our backup card, there will be no end to the torment. What do the rest of you do? It's unlikely I'll remember to strap on an undergarment holder every day of my life. Besides, they're hot.

A NOTE TO THOSE WHO HAVE ALSO LOST CREDIT CARDS (and cell phones, your driver's license …) ON THE ROAD: Perhaps we should travel in a pack, since in case of emergency, between us, we'll likely have everything we need.

PS Although I don't make any of this stuff up, I sure wish I did.