Archives Pt. 4 How I Spent My Winter Vacation--Mrs. Scoop & I travel through 10 states to deliver a valuable Christmas present, and encounter disaster at every turn! I still tremble at the memory! PLUS--the future Mrs. Scoop Jr. spanked in a thong! Thrilling photos!

 

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What I did on my Winter Vacation:

Part 1): San Diego, featuring the 'Great Cheese Curd Mystery!', in which California discovers a delicious  new food and I discover a former Chicago weatherman (not the SDS kind, pal! More like PJ Hoff...).

Part 2): Las Vegas, which again beats me to a pulp.

Warning: This has nothing to do with camping, unless you count the numerous motorhomes and 5th-wheels that relentlessly passed me as I trembled on steep canyon highways. It is also not a humorous tale. It's just a travelogue, a sort of Ventilator Blues. Then again, you might enjoy it...you know, seeing me cringe and lose money all in the same column.

 

        THE GREAT CHEESE CURD MYSTERY!                                    or            

                         Curds A-Whey!                                                                                            

 

 

SCOOP’S MISSION: To deliver Scoop Jr.’s Christmas present from Wisconsin to San Diego.

THE GIFT: 5lbs. of frozen breaded cheese curds

 

 

 

My magic number is 4789.2. Miles, that is. That’s how many I drove to give Mrs. Scoop a Christmas present. All I can say is, it was well worth it, and I am definitely now in the A+ column as far as 'good-husband' points go.

All she wanted for Christmas was to see Scoop Jr., who resides in San Diego, land of beautiful sunsets and beautiful women, the most beautiful of whom—Kris—is his girlfriend. Due to work conflicts, Scoop Jr. was not able to travel to Wisconsin per norm, and all he really wanted for Christmas was to see us, and get some breaded cheese curds. He loves those little suckers, but they are not available in San Diego, nor, I guess, in any other state, judging by the curious looks we got from people whenever we explained what was in the little Styrofoam cooler we iced down at every motel.

(Due to 9-11-01 and repeated Oprah guests warning Mrs. Scoop not to fly, we decided to drive. At one point, I was thisclose to getting Mrs. Scoop on a plane, but then the big ‘O’ had to go and schedule a bunch of anti-terrorist experts on the show. It’s just as well. That ass with the shoe-bomb pulled his stunt when we were already in San Diego. Mrs. Scoop would have flushed her return ticket down the toilet right then!)

The journey was fraught with danger as I, fearful of heights anyway, navigated steep mountains and hairpin turns, white-knuckled with fear. At times I was doing 55 as 80 year-old men in Cadillacs cruised past me at 90mph, not to mention trucks and motorhomes and U-Hauls that swayed to and fro with no regard to the white lines on the highway.

Speaking of white lines, it is true that you can hypnotize a chicken by drawing a line on the ground in front of it. It certainly happened to me. Again and again Mrs. Scoop would remark, "Honey, look at that beautiful and very tall rock formation, the one that looks like it could topple on us at any moment!" Ha!--as if I dared take my eyes off the road! Up I went and down I went, solid rock walls inches away. To make this even more fun, just when it was most dangerous, the speed limit increased! To add to my fear, most of the 10 states I traveled through had provided thoughtful highway signs. Here are several:

· Oklahoma and Missouri: "Hitchhikers may be escaped convicts." (Actually, this was a convenient method for determining where to stop for the night. When we saw such a sign, we drove another 100 miles. No man, even on the run, can go 100 miles before we check out in the morning and get a head start).

· Most states: "Beware of Falling Rocks" and "Runaway Truck Zone Ahead". (Missouri was kind enough to omit the words and just show a drawing of large boulders crushing a passing vehicle).

· New Mexico: "Do Not Drive Into Smoke". This one had us confused…what did they mean, and why would you? We found out when we came across the Fire Dept. doing a controlled burn right next to the highway. The smoke covered the highway. Perhaps you can understand why I was confused: Do I slam on the brakes at 75mph and hope everyone behind me thinks the same, or tough it out? We toughed it out, and that’s when we saw the sign for:

· "Danger of High Gusty Winds". I thought nothing of it, until a bit further Mrs. Scoop said, "Oh, look at those little clouds there. They seem to be coming right out of the ground." To our left was a vast plain. To our right was a vast plain. The little dancing clouds on the left looked like whirling dervishes. They were. Within a mile the dust storm covered the entire area. Traffic slowed to 45mph, even the little old guys in Cadillacs.

 

One of goals on this fun-seeking adventure trip was to visit the Grand Canyon. Alas, bad weather was due to move in, so we decided that at Amarillo, Texas we would head further south. The silver lining to this detour was that we would pass through Roswell, NM, home of a famous UFO crash. It was my secret wish that we would actually spot a UFO and Mrs. Scoop would be abducted by aliens and probed.

Just kidding…really! Despite the driving, we were having a wonderful time, doing a bit of partying the night before at the hotel in Springfield MO, enjoying the Jacuzzi and some refreshing beverages. The next day we drove hard and fast, intending to reach Roswell. Unfortunately, we were in a weakened state, and started looking for a room early. This would be the day that, as the skies darkened, we encountered the Highway from Hell.

On Hwy. 60, south of Amarillo, still in Texas, a stench began to invade the truck. A dead skunk would have been more preferable. I, who have pumped out thousands of RV holding tanks with the Honey Wagon, would gladly do it again for the entire length of time it took to drive this 100 mile stretch of stench.

What we were passing through were the cities of Hereford (should be named ‘Dead Heifer’) and Bovina, as in ‘bovine’, as in cows. These are slaughterhouse cities, hundreds of cattle in holding pens next to the factories where they do what they do so we can eat steaks and burgers. Don’t get me wrong—I love meat, especially burgers on the grill and NY Strips, but this ‘preparation station’ had us gagging with clenched throats, especially Mrs. Scoop, who desperately strove to keep down those evil beers from the night before.

We drove on, eyes streaming and faces contorted, passing through other towns probably clean but who wanted to take a chance of spending a night with the possibility of a bad wind striking just as we settled into bed? We finally could go no further, and stopped in Portales, NM.

SPECIAL LEGAL NOTICE: On the advice of my lawyer, I will not mention the name of the motel we stayed at. But there are only two in Portales, and this one did not have a "red" roof. Figure it out yourself.

The motel was ancient, all rooms ground-floor, the outdoor pool drained and dirty. Mrs. Scoop went in to get the room. She came back livid with anger. "Fifty bucks!" she said. We had spent last night at a beautiful Drury Inn in Springfield for $49, the night of the Jacuzzi and beers. To pay the same for this was insulting. But we had no choice…the owner of this motel refused to tell us even what the other motel was, let alone where it was. We were tired and desperate, and we surrendered.

Yes, it was a true Motel from Hell, just like the Highway. We were in the 2nd room from the office. The 1st room was permanently occupied by the owner’s little old mother, who accosted Mrs. Scoop as she went past several times to get ice to keep the cheese curds cold. (Perhaps Mom should have blamed her son for putting the ice machine right next to her door). The room was clean but old, with furniture from the 50s, like a haunted museum. As I was unpacking the luggage, I glanced about. Three raggedy pick-up trucks were parked helter-skelter along the desolate lot, and there, at the far side, was one two-story section of the motel. I took this to be the owner’s apartment. Thin chintz curtains covered the two windows. A light was on, and as I gawked, a shapeless head and body paced back and forth in the dim light. Bates Motel redux. We left as early as possible the next morning.

It can be terrifyingly dark at 4AM when driving towards Roswell. The highways seem to be unmarked, and we wondered if we were even headed in the right direction (As it turned out, Mapquest was wrong at one crucial turn. If we had followed the directions, we would have driven back into Texas until dawn’s early light. Luckily, we stopped for a train, probably full of dead cattle, and reconsidered our route). We entered more high mountains, truckers with no fear passing me at ungodly speeds. These would be the worst hairpin curves I would encounter until San Diego. I would later tell Mrs. Scoop that I felt as if I might as well just drive off the side and kill myself, since I was due to have a heart attack anyway.

We went through Roswell still in darkness. No aliens were sighted. At a truck stop further on, Mrs. Scoop asked a driver what these mountains were. He laughed. "Oh, these are just what we call ‘rolling hills’."

Very funny, Mr. Truck Driver. Anyway, on we drove. Besides the dust storms and the smoke stuff and the stench and possible falling rocks, we survived. There was a slight dilemma when we were stopped at a Border patrol checkpoint and asked about any ‘produce or vegetables’ in the vehicle: Should I mention the cheese curds? Would they even understand? Would the curds be confiscated? I kept my mouth shut.

There was much more terror on the road, notably the Fear Factor highways coming into San Diego, the deadliest of all, and those little signs at every rest area that warned of poisonous snakes and insects, but let’s go on, please…

For three nights I carried the Styrofoam cooler packed with curds into each motel room and restocked it with ice. When we finally reached San Diego at 1PM Pacific Time, the breading was a bit soggy, but that night the curds were delightful. We were proud parents indeed. We had accomplished our mission. (By the way, the curds were obtained courtesy of Jeff and Tina Russell of Kadee’s Kafe in Janesville, who I will eventually find some way to get even with).

The next morning, a bit groggy, I attempted to sneak out for coffee. I blame this on Kris, who must have latte or mocha, and thus Scoop Jr. does not have a coffee maker. Instead, growing in knowledge concerning relationships with women, he drives to Starbucks each AM to get Kris her fix. So at 5AM, baseball cap covering Kramer-hair, I attempted to ventured out and find coffee on the Boardwalk stretching along Pacific Beach. I got 5 feet.

The gate outside the patio door seemed to be locked. It was dark, and every time I tried to pull the gate door open, it made a horrific noise. Lights went on next door, maybe just early risers, but every screeching attempt to open the stubborn gate made me shudder with fear of a police raid or a shotgun slug through my forehead. I had no idea what people in California might do if they thought a burglar was rampant in their neighborhood. (Foolish me--I temporarily forgot it was Scoop Jr, man of all-hours, who lived here. 5AM was probably a normal time for the neighbors to be hearing strange noises!) I thought of climbing the banyan tree right outside to get over, but this too might bring the police. Stuck, I decided to go back inside. That’s when I realized I had locked myself out. After several minutes of quiet, desperate screaming, Scoop Jr. came to the rescue, showing me, sort of sarcastically, that the gate opened the other way. Well, duh--it was dark...you know? 

I finally made my way down the Boardwalk of Pacific Beach and found Chaz’s, a nice joint owned by Chaz and Pete Trabucco. They were just opening up, the potatoes not yet ready for breakfast, but Pete poured me a cup of good coffee and I finally relaxed. Pete and I got to talking, and I happened to mention I was from Wisconsin.

Back at the abode, Scoop Jr. said he’d be happy to go back for some java of his own, this being one of his not going-to-Starbucks mornings. We journeyed along, watching idiot surfers in 45 degree water keep falling off their boards, and began to breakfast at Chaz’s. That’s when the KUSI Channel 9 Weather Team rolled in.

The weather guy seemed oddly familiar. He interviewed Chaz and Pete for a few minutes, then went to the weather, watching a small portable black and white TV set up on a table to follow the map from the studio as he forecast the latest developments. Then it was off the air until the next weather-break. That’s when Pete said, "Hey, over there’s two guys from Wisconsin."

And so Terry Burnham came over and asked our names. When I said I had driven from Wisconsin, Scoop Jr. interjected with: "To bring me some cheese curds!"

This caused Terry Burnham to frown, and we tactfully described what a "curd" was. He nodded thoughtfully. The cameraman pointed and counted, Terry cleared his throat, and when it was time for one of those 'teaser-breaks' where the weather guy comes on for 5 seconds, Terry looked into the camera and said, "When we come back, we’ll explain the 'Great Cheese Curd Mystery!'"

Scoop Jr. and I looked at each other. A moment of fame was at hand! Unfortunately, we both looked like—to put it discreetly—scum. No showers, no shaves, breath reeking. But we were men, and Terry would understand.

At this point Scoop Jr. called Kris on his cell phone, telling her to turn the TV on. Then Terry explained he was from an independent channel, not on satellite. Scoop Jr. and I immediately had the insane idea of having Mrs. Scoop unhook the satellite and rig up some rabbit-ears on the roof, nightgown flapping in the wind. That lasted about five seconds until our brain cells recouped.

We were ready for our famous interview when Kris showed up elegant and perfect. "Oh, I just happened to be in the neighborhood!" she beamed. OK, Kris…so that’s how you dress for your morning cup of coffee! That’s why Terry spent our five minutes gushing over you instead of the true story of the cheese curds! Just kidding again—Scoop Jr. did tell his tale, although once again we had some difficulty in explaining what a cheese curd was. What’s with these people?

(And the reason Terry Burnham seemed familiar was he used to be the weatherman for WMAQ Channel 5 long ago in Chicago. He still looks good, and has a nice tan, for those of you interested).

Back at the house, things were dandy. Scoop Jr. and Kris had a beautiful Christmas tree (decorated by Kris, we figure; Scoop Jr. is like me—I just drink beer and watch), and we exchanged nice gifts. I got some 007 DVDs and Lara Croft comic books and a hot tamale pajama thing. We ate great food, and every evening Mrs. Scoop and I went up to the rooftop deck and watched the sun set.

It sets quickly, and you have to pay attention. You want to see the ‘green flash’, a show of green light just as the sun hits the horizon and the reds and pinks swarm overhead. We didn’t see it for three nights...

Then we did. It took our breaths away…

Ooh-la-la…talk about foreplay! Thank you, San Diego!

 

 

And now I must mention some warnings, especially this one for you women-folk out visiting SD: On Sunday, football starts at 10AM! This is fantastic! Ladies, please don’t expect anything from your guy that day. Just prepare some munchies and keep the beer coming!

Also, I have a BIG-TIME WARNING: Friends have warned me that there are certain cactus plants in the Southwest that are heat-sensitive. When a warm object, likely a predator, approaches, the cacti shoot out needles like darts. Fine, except what if you are golfing, and have to "go"? There you are, peeing against an apparently-friendly plant, and suddenly many heat-seeking needles shoot out, aimed right at your "thing"? Hey, try to explain that one to your wife!

That’s it for now for San Diego. If you haven’t been there, you should go. If you golf, see you later, needle-dick...

TRAVEL TIME: 3.5 Days, 2200 miles exactly.

MISSION: ACCOMPLISHED! Curds slightly soggy, but good!

For more exciting cheese curd photos plus Kris wearing a thong, go to Updates.

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     Yes, there is more! The Adventure continues in…

               Pt. II, The Vegas Connection…

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SCOOP’S VACATION PT. II: THE VEGAS CONNECTION:

After we deep-fried a turkey for Christmas at Scoop Jr’s in San Diego, we spent a relaxing week enjoying the sunsets. Our guest bedroom and the rooftop deck gave us beautiful views. We began planning our second leg of the journey, a trip to Las Vegas.

This was a gift from Scoop Jr., courtesy of his gambling at the Paris casino. He had thrown down a lot of $$$ during his last spree, which he now describes as a ‘disaster’, no further details available. Regardless, he was getting one room comped free and the 2nd at ‘casino’ rates. For New Years Eve, this was a fantastic deal. We were happy.

And then tragedy struck.

Scoop Jr. rents the house with two other guys. Matt, who had generously given Mrs. Scoop and I his ocean-view room, was gone to Chicago for the week. The other roommate, whom I will only identify as Gerard "C" (name withheld to protect the guilty) was there the night Mrs. Scoop and I arrived. Scoop Jr. forced him to eat some of the cheese curds we had delivered from Wisconsin via car. (He seemed to enjoy them—I cannot blame the curds for what later transpired). That night, he left for Ireland, his home from whence he had been gone 14 months. In his place, he left his ’88 Mercedes, explaining to Scoop Jr.: "This will be better for you and your folks to travel around in. I’ll just take your car and park it in Newport." (Mr. "C" would be taken to the airport by a friend in Newport. FYI: Newport is a very exclusive enclave city, well protected by its police force).

Until 12/29, we drove like rich folks in the Mercedes. We were thwarted at our attempt to go on a harbor cruise when the Holiday Bowl Parade decided to practice on that very same street at that same time, but, hey—that’s football! Even that was a nice tourist 'thing'. We saw magnificent homes and drank at fine restaurants overlooking views you usually only see in coffee-table books. All was well.

It was later that afternoon that Scoop Jr. and accomplice Kris went to the Holiday Bowl game, parking the Mercedes on the street at a rendezvous near a saloon. That night, after much celebration, Scoop Jr. and Kris wisely took a ride home from a friend. Returning the next morning, anxious for a latte for Kris and then perhaps a whoop-de-doo, Scoop Jr. discovered an empty parking space.

"C’s" car had been towed because he had not fulfilled his obligations: He had not paid $40 for an emission test, even though he had already paid $400 for everything else (registration, taxes, etc.). So now the dilemma: We had so much luggage that not even tiny Kris with the blue eyes could fit inside the Scoopmobile, let alone Jr., who is not a small man.

Thus, Mrs. Scoop and I journeyed on to Vegas without the Kid and Kris. Without Scoop Jr. to get the comps at Paris, we switched to The Mirage and had a great time. Our first night was also our anniversary, and we were 2nd row center for Tony Bennett. It was a beautiful show, although my attempt at more fame failed when Tony apparently did not get my note to invite me and Mrs. Scoop to his room afterwards for drinks. That’s OK—the next day I was able to meet another famous person who has not been seen in Vegas in many a year (click here).

The next night was New Year’s Eve. We had been warned with a letter in our room that the streets would be blocked and only hotel guests would be allowed back in to each casino after 7PM. I figured this was being over-dramatic. Hah! By 11PM the throngs outside resembled that of Time’s Square. The Mirage was now cordoned off by temporary steel fences, with security personnel at each gate checking for room keys. Three police squads, an ambulance, and two officers on bicycles were at the ready near the entrance to the casino. Beefy guys in yellow Mirage jackets kept in constant radio check. It was 11:52…my video camera was poised…

And now I have good news and bad news:

Bad News: I had to pee…really bad! With all the security, there was nowhere to go discretely. Sure, further down there were plants and bushes, but, fearful of needle-shooting cacti, I was forced to duck into the hotel and use an actual bathroom.

Good News: The fireworks were still going when I emerged, camera-ready. I got some nice home movies.

The next nights were a rollercoaster. I lost at ‘Let It Ride’ every morning, won at ‘3 Card Poker’ every night. That is, until Mrs. Scoop, who was having dastardly luck at the slots, decided to join me at the table. On her second hand, she drew 3 Aces, paying 30:1 on a $10 bet. She was hooked. So was the money in my wallet, which the Mirage methodically extracted hand-by-hand for each of us over the next two nights.

But I can’t complain. One evening, after a bad hour for everyone at the table, we got to talking. I was from Wisconsin, the man to my right was from New York, to his right was a man from Minnesota now working in Hong Kong, and next to him a man from Taiwan. I would have to say I was losing the least of all of them, yet I felt like grumbling due to bad luck. We were all just sort of counting our meager remaining chips. That’s when the man from Hong Kong sighed, smiled, and threw another $500 on the table for more chips. "What the hell," he said, "I didn’t fly 14 hours from Hong Kong to sit in my room and watch TV. I came here to gamble." 

And so we did. And so we lost even more…

I probably should have watched more TV.

(There was another man at the table another night, from Sydney. At this point that entire city in Australia was in danger of being engulfed. When asked about it, he looked up from his cards and said, "What fire?" We explained. He sighed and said, "Just my luck. Go on, deal the cards.")

Another ‘highlight’ occurred a different evening when Pete Samas, a new table-buddy from Lodi, was down to his last chips. He had placed his bet, and it was evident he had a winning hand. To win, he needed to ante up another measly $10. Alas, he was busted. Surrounding him was a bevy of beauties, several of whom were his sisters. "Hey, gimme ten bucks quick!" Pete asked all of the girls. The dealer waited patiently. The women quietly shrugged and all held out empty palms. Luckily, Pete found a long-lost $20 in his pants and sealed the win. He left shortly afterwards, and the dealer, a woman, said to us: "If I had been him, I would have picked those girls up by their ankles and shook the money out of them!"

I saw Pete and his sisters and friends a short time later. The girls were begging Pete to take them all to a buffet. "C’mon, Pete, buy us dinner!"

You know what…I’ll bet he did.

That’s about it. We had good driving weather all the way home, and spending nearly seven days total in a car with your wife can either make you or break you. I’m happy to say we made it nice and strong, a bit more wiser and understanding for the journey. Oh, by the way…we managed a detour to the Grand Canyon. I got extra bonus points for that, and Mrs. Scoop is paying off daily.

Two more things: First, I have eaten in many fine dining establishments, but one particular place has been out of reach for many years now. It was only when I ventured South and West that I was able to enjoy something I had not had since long, long ago. We stopped eight times for this great meal on our journey. I can still taste it now…(click here)

Secondly, stand up and click your toes together…do it with me now! Firmly repeat after me:

"There’s no place like home…"

"There’s no place like home…"

 

 

 

Hey--no Tony Bennett...no problem...we got Elvis!*

       *...OK, it's Jason Sandor, seen at the Elvis-A-Rama Musuem.   PS: Jason was just recently featured on the Travel Channel's 'Vegas' week. He's 17, and he's pretty cool. 

                     Hey...can't get 'em in Wisconsin!

more vacation photos below!

 

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     The soggy curd box. Scoop Jr. is happy indeed.

 

Kris tries to steal Cheese Curds during the night and is caught! PS: She is wearing a thong!

 

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