I’m having a little trouble concentrating this week because I am capping off my insane fall travel schedule with a personal trip! I’ve been to Vegas multiple times, but it never loses its charm. We’re spending the first two nights on Fremont Street, where the odds are better with smaller buy-ins for video poker, black jack and craps. Then, we cap off the trip with a stay at Encore on the strip. We also have some friends and family joining us for different portions of the trip, and I can’t think of a better way to kick off the holiday season than finding some trouble all together in Vegas. The mayhem begins Friday, and you can follow along via Snapchat, Twitter, or Instagram!
On a particularly dreary day in October, I made the drive from Chicago to Cadillac, Michigan. Cadillac is about an hour south of Traverse City, where I was going to be attending an event for work. I chose to stay in Cadillac for convenience and price; it meant only a five hour drive that travel day, and the Hampton Inn ran about $100 per night. The Traverse City Hampton Inn wanted $179 for the pleasure of staying in their 1980’s time-warp hotel. I knew that Traverse City was about a 50% bigger city than Cadillac, but I had stayed there before and figured I would experience something new in a different place.
And indeed I did.
My hotel was about a mile from the Downtown Cadillac Lakeside District, which runs parallel to Lake Cadillac. The “district” is about three short blocks of random shops, bars, restaurants, and a small movie theater. Of course, all the shops were closed before I got there (and probably filled with things I don’t need), but I planned to walk around and find somewhere for dinner. I first stopped in the Clam Lake Beer Company (Clam Lake was the original name of the city), but it was completely packed and was even standing room only at the bar. I moved on, and as I reached the end of the “Lakeside District,” I saw a place called the “Roaring 20’s Saloon.” I’ve been into a lot of cute establishments that refer to themselves as “saloons,” so I decided to give this one a try.
What happened next was straight out of a movie. I opened the heavy wooden door and streams of daylight lit up the dark insides. Once my eyes adjusted, I realized that every single person in the saloon had stopped mid-sentence and was staring at me. There wasn’t even music playing at the time, but all I could hear in my head was a record scratching. Faced with the choice of immediately walking out or toughing out the awkwardness for one drink, I sheepishly headed to the bar and ordered a bud light from the bartender, who almost looked at me with pity. I then proceeded to drink that beer faster than I used to in college while watching the bartender make that “fine food” you see advertised on sign above. I’m not sure how the griddle and the fryer sitting on the counter wasn’t a fire hazard; one spark would burn the whole place down in five seconds.
Anxious to get out, I asked tried to hand over my credit card only to find out that the minimum purchase was five dollars, unless I had cash.
I will never travel without cash again.
As I sat there pounding a second bud light, a guy limped out from the darkness of the back part of the bar. He had a huge belly and was wearing a blue tank top that didn’t meet the top of his dirty khaki shorts (it was 60 degrees outside). He also was carrying an oxygen tank with a six foot cord, and mercifully selected some music to start playing. I couldn’t even tell you what it was, but anything was better than the hushed talking between the few people at the bar who were all locals.
When I finally escaped, I went back to Clam Lake Brewing Company and waited it out for a spot at the bar, now understanding why the place was packed: it was the best place to go in the whole town. And while I was also surrounded by locals there, they were locals who were interested in why I was in town, rather than acting like I was invading their space. I mentioned that I had accidentally gone to the Saloon first, and the bartender said “oh no, the biker bar?”
Oh no, indeed.
I made a pit stop on my road trip in the city of Holland to see the Windmill Island Gardens. It was closed for the winter, but you could still walk around the area and take photos. Apparently over 100,000 tulips bloom there in the springtime, but I was there on a chilly, grey day in October. So while there was not much happening on the grounds, I’m still glad I stopped by for a quick look, if only to stretch my legs.
The first time I ever rented a car it was the strangest feeling. I spent extra time making sure all my mirrors were correct and that my seat was just right. I was also terrified of having an accident in it; my company included the damage waiver on rentals, but it was my first job out of college and I didn’t want to have to call my boss to tell her I’d hit a wild hog in South Texas that turned my car into an accordion.
Now, renting a car is just business as usual, except for what I call the “Rental Car Lottery.” I typically reserve a standard sized car, but that is apparently the size car that most people rent. Chances are, when you arrive at Enterprise you will receive an automatic upgrade to a different class of car, or something completely different than you expected. This can work for or against you. For example, I had the pleasure of getting a Hyundai Accent at O’Hare airport, and had to road trip that thing up and down Michigan before dumping it in Cleveland. I’ve never been happier to get rid of a car, except maybe three weeks earlier in Ft. Lauderdale.
Because of Hurricane Irma, Enterprise had rented every available car except for white utility vans or minivans. The agent threw in a free tank of gas for my troubles after noticing the look of horror on my face. The poor elderly couple in front of me had just selected their minivan, and considering they almost ran over an employee while trying to exit, I’m betting they wished they didn’t have to drive one either.
I had room for 8 imaginary friends in my Dodge Caravan, and cruised into both Miami and West Palm Beach looking like the baddest bitch in town. The most humiliating part was the valet-only option at my West Palm Beach hotel. At least it had leather seats?
Of course you don’t always end up with a terrible car. Two years ago in Ft. Lauderdale I lucked into a convertible Camaro, which was the perfect car to drive up the Florida coast. The free BMW upgrade I got one other time made for a fantastic trip across Texas. However the Kia Soul I got in San Diego? My only request was that it did not come with hamsters. I’m sure the agent never heard that one before.
So I’ve been pretty quiet recently because I’ve been absolutely exhausted. Once I returned from my last trip (which included an amazing experience at The Broad in Los Angeles), I had a mountain of tasks to complete as I wrapped up 21 days in a row of travel and in-office work. I promise I will return to regular posting again soon, but for a recap, here are all the places I made it to this fall:
- New Orleans
- West Palm Beach
- Ft. Lauderdale
- Notre Dame
- Traverse City, Michigan
- Oberlin/Cleveland, Ohio
- San Antonio
- Austin (a particularly awful day-trip)
- Los Angeles
- San Diego
I can’t wait to share my adventures with you! This fall has gone by so quickly I almost forgot about the personal trip I’ll be taking in less than two weeks: Las Vegas. No matter how many times I’ve been to Vegas, it never seems to get old. Maybe someday, they will send me for work. Or at least a conference!
I’m headed out to Los Angeles right now for my last work trip this fall. This is flight number 8/9 since September, and I’m exhausted. My fall schedule usually allows for more breaks between trips, but this year has been non-stop travel for over a month. I’m sure I’ll miss it when it’s over, as I always tend to do.
In spite of the horrendous traffic, the trip to LA is one of my favorites every year. Although I have yet to spot a celebrity anywhere, there’s always plenty of things to do. I’m staying in the Burbank area with lots of walking-distance activities for when I’m not working or sitting in traffic. Last year it took me two hours to get from West Hollywood to Anaheim, and this year I’m making a day trip to San Diego Saturday. With all the time I’ll be spending going 10mph in my car, I’m really hoping I win the rental car free upgrade lottery at Enterprise once I arrive.
One of the benefits of spending my week driving all over Texas has been the short break I took stopping off in Waco. I’m sure the majority of you associate Waco, Texas with 90s cult leader David Koresh, but I associate it with college. For those interested though, you can still visit David Koresh’s compound. A friendly man with a shotgun named Andrew X98 will happily give you some informative pamphlets regarding their religion.
I’m pretty sure every freshman visits that compound at some point, unless they chicken out.
Anyway, I had some time to drive around campus and my old apartment to see how much has changed. It kind of felt like visiting an upgraded movie set of a show you used to star in: new buildings everywhere, new restaurants (how did Waco get an In-and-Out burger before Houston?), and even a mini mart walking distance from where I used to live. Considering it sells beer, wine, and liquor too, I’m sure I would have been a regular.
Short on time, I grabbed lunch at an old favorite. Viteks used to only be open for lunch, but has since expanded their business and building. If you ever find yourself in Waco, be sure to get a gut pak (or even a half of one is plenty). It might not look like much, but it’s an amazing styrofoam box of BBQ and for me, nostalgia.