Thursday, May 31, 2012

Low Plains Drifter

More on our odyssey to the great prairie states. We spent five days in five states last week: Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa; drove 1000 miles, averaging 200 miles per day which is about ten times as far as a covered wagon traveled in the late 1800's. Gary is now a member of the exclusive 50 state club.
50th state he visited!
With this trip I could check off Oklahoma (47), Nebraska (48) and Iowa (49). And the last state will be......Kentucky! Anyone interested in going to the Derby next year? I have a friend born in Louisville who also insisted that my Kentucky celebration include eating a fried baloney sandwich at Louisville Slugger Field. Ah, things to look forward to...

Things we learned on this trip:
  1. there are over a 1000 different types of barbed wire...and the Cowboy Museum has a whole room full of them
  2. Only 40% of the pioneers were able to last 5 years to claim the land offered under the Homestead Act
  3. Jesse James had a wife and 2 kids
  4. Ginny normally sleeps 12 hours a day, so she missed seeing a lot of grain elevators
  5. Gary went through five boxes of tissues and coughed 849 times, but Ginny was so patient she didn't yell at him once. (well, maybe once...or twice...)

Here's a little quiz from our Heartland adventure across the low plains. See if you can guess our choices:

Best lunch:
  1. Chuck wagon buffet at the Cowboy Museum, Oklahoma City  Yee-ha!
  2. Sonic Burger sitting at a picnic table near Abilene, KS on a very windy day
  3. German restaurant in Independence, MO - hot German potato salad with sauerkraut
  4. Back Alley luncheonette in Beatrice, NE "Want a refill of your <32 oz> soda, Hon?"
  5. Sandwiches in the park in Council Bluff, IA
Best dinner:
  1. Tapas bar in Wichita KS waiting for a rope tornado to descend and our waitress to appear (the first never happened; the second eventually did)
  2. Topeka KS brew pub. "Want a refill of your <32 oz> soda, Hon?"
  3. Majestic Chophouse, Kansas City MO majestic big beef with a side of KC jazz
  4. Omaha NB 801 Steakhouse-- Beef-it's what's for dinner!
  5. Des Moines Airport--burgers all around.
Best attraction:
  1. OK City Memorial
  2. OK City Cowboy Museum - Gary shakes hands with bronze statues of John Wayne and Ronald Reagan
  3. KS Tallgrass National Preserve - a bus ride to the middle of a field of prairie grass (and weeds)
  4. Abilene KS- Eisenhower home and museum - interesting, but museum had same displays as when it opened in the 60s. What was with the 50's and Mamie's hats and arguably the worst hairstyle of any first lady? Gary takes picture of 11 foot high bronze statue of Ike.
  5. Independence MO - home and presidential library of Harry S. Truman (he added the S). Gary shakes hand with bronze statue of Harry. (They are the same height)
  6. St. Joseph, MO - home where Jesse James was shot--also in the running for hokiest exhibit, as it included an extensive showcase on the exhuming of his body in 1995, including the skull and his teeth
  7. Homestead National Monument - 150 year celebration of the Homestead Act included display from the National Archive; better prairie than Tallgrass! Very cool visitor center that looked like a prairie schooner.
  8. Squirrel Jail, Council Bluffs, IA-- a cylindrical county jail that rotated (like a squirrel cage), allowing only one cell door to line up with the exit at a time.  (Not a great design if there was a fire)
Favorite gas stations:
  1. Quick Trip
  2. Finish Line
  3. Cenex
  4. Shamrock
  5. Kum n go
  6. Valero - boring- we have that in the East
Best quote:
  1. Windy, today--mighty windy
  2. Can I have the tissue box? 
  3. Want a refill, Hon?
  4. Is it always this windy?
Favorite state:
  1. OK- best attractions
  2. NE- because we were in the "big O!" (it's how they market Omaha)
  3. IA- most grain elevators
  4. KS- closest to a real tornado
  5. MO- 'cause Gary kept saying "Missoura" like he was a native. Gracious!
  6. Gee, I keep getting them mixed up
And the answers!!
Best lunch:
Ginny #5- picnic in this city park: 90 degrees and lots of kids running through the sprinklers near this fountain

Gary #3: German restaurant across from this National Park visitor center--pass the Pepto bismol, please.

Best dinner:
Philips Hotel, KC, art deco lobby
We agreed: #3 Can't beat the combo of good food and jazz at the Majestic, which was near our beautiful art deco hotel and the KC rejuvenated downtown area called the Power and Light district

Best attraction:  the ballots are still being counted!
Favorite gas: loved them all, except Valero--no brand name Exxons or Mobils here
Best Quote: #1- Yup, it was windy.
and...drum roll please... Favorite State ....  it's got to be #6!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Advice from a Prairie

Explore new horizons

Keep a sunny outlook

Be patient through the dry spells

Stay open

Listen to the wind

Give yourself space

Be natural

      2009  www,

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, Kansas

Bison separated from the herd. Ranger thought she might be in labor.
White flowers known as New Jersey tea
Homestead National Monument, Nebraska

Sun salutation from the New Agey me

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Las Vegas

Spent four days in Vegas last week and did no gambling other than a dollar in a poker machine, while waiting for our dinner group to assemble. (I know, Scott, such a wasted opportunity!) The K family vacation with Gary's siblings is golf centric--36 holes a day. I slept in and joined the afternoon sessions of 18 holes one day and 9 the next.

We had a great time. Beautiful courses, desert starkness.

i-Phone takes terrible pix or is it me?
Hate to say it, but the group seems to be aging a bit. I heard some complaints of tight back muscles, windburn, and an admission that the best day was the one where they played a mere 27 holes. One thing about not seeing relatives too often is they get stuck in your mind at a younger age and you're truly surprised that time marches on. I laughed at dinner one night at what must be a genetic K weakness.  "No garlic, no onion", the voice boomed to the waiter. Was that my father-in-law talking from beyond the grave?  No, the anti-garlic gene had surfaced in the next generation.

Although we stayed about 20 minutes from the strip, we ventured down to see the Cirque du Soleil Elvis show and enjoyed a wonderful tapas dinner in the newer Aria casino. Amazing that they've sandwiched in several new casinos around the Bellagio, including the Aria and the Cosmopolitan.

On my own I checked out the Mob Museum, in downtown LV, which opened February 14, 2012--anniversary of Capone's Valentine Day massacre. The museum is located in the historic Federal Courthouse/Post Office where the organized crime Kefauver hearings were heard in 1950, acknowledgement that the mob truly did exist and the first steps to bringing them to justice. The museum tries to tell both sides of the story: the mob and the law enforcement. It has a number of  interactive exhibits and photo opps.

Here I am in the police lineup; also fired a tommy gun and stalked a criminal through some dark alleys before our showdown. (I think he got me)  I loved the Las Vegas section with the celebrity and mobster pictures: glamorous Hollywood days with Bugsy Siegel, Frank Sinatra's rat pack, Kennedys and more.  It definitely was not an unbiased National Park Service site--the museum took the position that the mob wiped out President Kennedy, no opposing views aired in that video. And Las Vegas itself got off lightly -- sure, a history of mob influence, but that was looong ago.

Not so squeaky clean was the Catholic Church and our own dear Manhattan College:
Bishops and mobsters at the dedication of Guardian Angel Church on land donated from the Desert Inn (Moe Dalitz and Cleveland mob)
Video on the mob and sports referenced the 1951 point shaving basketball scandal with Junius Kellogg at Manhattan College.

I could tell you a lot more, but as the slogan goes:  "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas."