april 2017

We're finally back home and recovering from our DC trip, which was fun, but which had its share of challenges.

It wasn't just a DC trip—we actually ended up staying in three places in six days (that part was by design). Also, even though we flew up to DC, we did not fly back (definitely NOT by design). But we'll get to that later.

We started our trip on Friday (the last day of March), flying into Dulles and picking up our rental car there. This is where we encountered our first (and easiest to solve) travel snafu of the trip - our rental car came from some sort of bizarre alternate universe where it was a 2017 model that had neither a USB port nor a headphone jack but instead had a CD player. Given that we were going to be using the phone for navigation, this didn't work for us. But the rental car company let us swap it out for a model that had more modern interfaces for our phones.

The weather was pretty miserable—grey and rainy and foggy—which made the two-plus hour drive to our first stop in Charlottesville a lot more miserable than it needed to be, especially given that I was pretty exhausted from getting up so early for our flight (we were at the airport by 5:30). But we got to Charlottesville okay and got checked into the place we were staying by noon.

We didn't stay in a hotel for once—instead Julie found a cool Airbnb outside of town in Keswick near the place we used to live for a couple of years right after we got married. it was actually a single room over a garage, but that garage was part of a multimillion dollar property owned by a former ad exec (and current author) and his wife, and it was a really cool space—lots of windows and skylights with great views of the surrounding Viriginia countryside.

After we got our stuff unpacked, we headed into town to walk around the downtown mall and get some lunch. Thankfully our favorite pizza place from 20 years ago, Christian's, was still open and still serving unique pizza by the slice choices. (It was actually Sylvia's when it opened in its original location, but proprietor and head chef Christian got burned out after a few years and sold it to someone else, only to reopen in its current location a year or so later using his own name.) I got my old favorite, spicy chicken, while Will surprisingly opted for the pesto and tortellini (which he loved).

We walked around the mall some more after that, stopping by the church where we got married, and then drove around town to see what had changed. We thought about going somewhere interesting for dinner, but given the crowds and traffic on Friday night, we ended up just eating at a chicken place called Raising Cane's. We were all pretty beat by then as well, so we just headed home and went to bed after dinner.

The reason we came to Charlottesville as part of this trip was because Julie's school where she got her PhD was celebrating its 50th anniversary, so there were a lot of events for all graduates of the program to come back and see the changes, etc. Most of these events took place on Saturday, so Will and I dropped Julie off at the school and then headed over to campus to have our own adventures for a few hours.

We started off by walking to the historical residence quad in front of the Rotunda and walking up the steps of the Rotunda. It was closed, but we walked around outside it for a few minutes before heading down to the Corner for breakfast. We found a place that was oddly quiet for a weekend morning (the server told us the students didn't usually wander in until around 11 on Saturdays to recover from their hangovers), and Will got a chocolate chip pancake and I got house-made corned beef hash.

The waitress recommended a cool toy store that she described as "just up the street", telling us to go up two traffic lights and it would be on the right, so we decided that would be our next destination. It ended up being WAY more than a couple of traffic lights—it was about a mile and a half away and at least six traffic lights—and we got turned around several times looking for it because we were convinced (based on what the waitress had told us) that we had gone too far and somehow missed it.

But we got there eventually and Will got a little keychain Magic 8 Ball, which he quickly anthropomorphized and consulted regularly for the rest of the trip. We spent a long time in that store because it took so long to get there, but despite the long walk, Will was pretty cheery on the way back to campus.

Julie was still doing her school stuff by the time we got back, so we headed back to the Rotunda, which was open for visitors now. I don't know that I'd ever actually been in there when we lived in Charlottesville, so we probably spent another hour in there visiting all three floors. Will was pretty engaged given that it's not a very kid-friendly place, and he took particular delight in pointing out to the docents that one of the interactive touchscreen tables wasn't working correctly.

Since Julie still wasn't ready to go when we were done with the Rotunda and Will wasn't hungry for lunch yet, I decided to drive outside the city to the old community theater where I did several productions (mostly as a stage manager) when I was in grad school. It was called Four County Players, and their signature show when I was there was an outdoor Shakespeare production that took place at a local vineyard that contained the ruins of one an early governor's mansion for the state of Virginia. Every summer we would build a stage out at the ruins and then run two or three shows a week for two or three weeks where people could bring picnics and buy wine from the vineyard and sit on blankets eating and drinking during the play.

I didn't do any research to see if the theater was still active before we drove out there, but I was gratified and a little relieved to see that it still seemed to be thriving. The current volunteers were having a workday building and decorating the set for an upcoming production, and while no one I knew was still there, I did get a chance to catch up with one of the volunteers about the current state of the theater. They had unfortunately stopped doing the Shakespeare production a few years ago—the vineyard has a very popular and expensive Airbnb rental in a small cottage near the ruins, and guests were complaining about the rehearsals and the plays - but they were still going strong, and if anything they had had to get even more aggressive about their play selections and community engagement because they could no longer depend on the Shakespeare cash cow.

We finally reconnected with Julie back in Charlottesville early in the afternoon, and we headed back to our Airbnb spot for a quick nap before we went back to the mall for dinner.

On the way back to our Airbnb, we stopped by the property where we lived for our last couple of years in Charlottesville. We lived in a small house (one bedroom, a small office, a den, and a kitchen) on a larger property owned by a flight attendant. Overall the property had the main house (an old mansion that the owner was slowly restoring), our house, another house similar in size to the one we rented next to the pool, and the upstairs of a converted barn where the landlord's mother lived. The property was also home to many farm animals, although it was not a working farm—they were more like pets for the owner, There were several llamas, a flock of peacocks, a pig, a horse, and a donkey.

Our former landlord was there, and he hadn't changed much. The property was also very similar, although there was a new gazebo near our old rental place, a new room he had added onto our house, and a new tiny house that the landlord installed specifically to rent out on Airbnb (which we might have decided to stay in had it been available the weekend we were there). There were still some animals on the farm, but none of the ones we remembered—he had to get new llamas after disease took the others, and the peacocks had also been picked off by foxes, so he had to get new ones and build a better evening roosting spot for them. The horse, the pig, and the donkey were also gone, which wasn't surprising given that they were already middle aged or older when we were there, and that was twenty years ago.

One of his tenants who was there when we were was still there, although her husband had passed away and she had moved over into the barn after the landlord's mother also died. We chatted about some of the other folks we remembered from that time and he gave us some updates, It was comforting in a way to return there—I can't believe that was two decades ago—and also to let Will see this place that we'd told him about with all the exotic animals, but it was a strange mix of things that hadn't changed at all and things that were radically different.

It was nice to have this comforting, nostalgic moment for a place that was a big part of our lives even though we were only there for a couple of years, but is was also terribly sad to have to deal with losses that we knew were highly likely (like the death of our landlord's mother, who we adored) but which weren't absolutely proven facts.

When we got back to our Airbnb after visiting our old landlord, one of the hosts' dogs, a friendly little one named Butter, followed us up to our room and hopped right up into the bed to take a nap with us, which Will thought was pretty great. It really was a great place to stay, and the hosts were friendly and attentive when we needed them but otherwise were very hands off and let us have the run of their property.

We rested for a little while, and then gathered ourselves to head back into town for dinner. For out last night in Charlottesville, we connected with our friend Tom, who I first met when I started working at a publishing company in Charlottesville twenty years ago after I was done with my UVA program and Julie was still working on her PhD. We met him on the downtown mall and wandered around there for a bit, but when it was time to eat, he took us over to a little community art spot a few blocks from the mall.

We ate at a place called Brazos Tacos (I couldn't remember the name of it, but I Googled "Charlottesville hipster tacos" and it was the first result), and it was pretty good. We have a lot of places like this in Atlanta, but it was as good as any of the ones here, and Will enjoyed eating outside. We were planning to go over to the little community fair across the way when we were done, but there was a shocking $10+ entry fee even though it was almost over, so we contented ourselves with watching from a roof on the way back to the mall.

We went for coffee on the mall with Tom and then headed back to our Airbnb to pack up and get ready to leave Charlottesville the next day. We fell asleep watching UNC win their Final Four game to advance to the championship game, and then got up early the next morning to head to Maryland.

It took a couple of hours to get to Maryland, where we were staying with a friend of Julie's from her old job in Baltimore. We were greeted with a giant chalk drawing in the driveway welcoming us, which Will thought was great. They have two kids who are a little older than Will (a lot of his early clothes were hand me downs from the son), and staying with them allowed us to visit with them for a while and also be closer to some of the stuff we wanted to do in the Baltimore area before we headed down to DC.

We went up to where we used to live in Sykesville to see our old house, and not only had the people who bought the house from us already sold it and moved on (I guess it has been five years), but our neighbors from across the street, who had been in the neighborhood for probably 30 years, had also sold their house and moved to Delaware for their retirement. So we really don't have many connections left there - I don't see us going back to visit again even if we're in the area.

Will played on the playground down the street for a little while and then we went to lunch at what used to be one of our favorite sandwich shops, and then we headed down to our hosts' house. The afternoon was spent with Will playing with the kids and Julie catching up with her friend before we all headed to Baltimore to walk around Hampden and have dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, Golden West.

We stopped at many of the boutiques and shops on the Avenue, including one of my old favorites, Atomic Books. The owners weren't there, but I had a good time revisiting the shop anyway - I always get some new items for my reading list when I visit there. It took a while to get a table at Golden West even though we were there pretty early, but it was worth the wait. I got my two favorite dishes, the teriyaki brussels sprouts and the chorizo burrito with Christmas sauce.

The next morning we were planning to head down to a hotel in DC for the final part of our trip, but we had the second of our three travel hiccups on this trip, this one pretty major...

When we returned from our Baltimore excursion, I noticed that the low pressure light for the tires had lit up on the dashboard, but I figured it had something to do with the cold. I kicked all the tires to be sure, but they all seemed solid, so I didn't really think anything more about it.

The light was still on in the morning, and as we were leaving the neighborhood, I decide to check one more time to be sure. It's a good thing I did—the rear driver's side tire was completely flat. So we drove the block back to Julie's friend's house, called AAA, and waited for them to help us out. We actually tried to call the rental car company first - they had a roadside assistance hotline—but they basically told us it was our problem but that we'd need to fill out some special paperwork for them no matter how we ended up resolving it.

While we waited for AAA, Julie called the customer service department for the car rental company and worked out a plan where, if we could get the car to the BWI rental location (the closest major one to us), we could exchange it for a new car for a $40 fee. We were hoping AAA might be able to patch and reinflate the tire so it was strong enough for us to get it to BWI, but when the technician took a closer look, he found a screwhead poking out and recommended that we use the spare tire for the trip.

So he put on the spare for us and also pulled the screw out of the tire. It was—I'm not joking—a five inch long screw, and he said it was the biggest one he'd ever pulled out of a tire. It must have happened on our Baltimore trip, which is maybe another sign that return trips to Baltimore are of no great value to us at this point.

But once we got the spare on, it was a pretty painless drive down to the BWI rental office, where they gave us a new car and we got on our way down to DC. We ended up getting to the hotel about two hours later than we had planned, but we decided not to waste any opportunity to take Will to see the sights, so we hopped on the Metro (we purposely chose a hotel that was only a block away from a Metro stop) and headed down to the National Mall.

Our friend Tom met us in the DC to hang out with us for the afternoon. None of. us had had lunch yet even though it was solidly the middle of the afternoon by the time we got off the Metro, so we went straight to the Air and Space Museum to have lunch at one of my favorite spots: the white metal and glass atrium where their cafeteria is located. It's a little disappointing that they only have a fast food franchise there, but it was fine for that day, and Will certainly doesn't complain (we very rarely let him get fast food).

We got lucky with the day we were visiting - the museum was open until 7, two hours later than normal, which made up for the fact that we were two hours later than we planned. This was my favorite museum to visit as a kid, and it was heartwarming to see how much Will enjoyed it even though he's never really gotten into the space thing they way I did when I was a kid. We went into pretty much every room and exhibit, but his favorites were (unsurprisingly) the life-size models of planes and Skylab that you could go in and walk around.

We also saw a planetarium show about the universe and picked up a t-shirt for Will at the gift shop. One of the last things we did was to touch the moon rock that they have had on display for decades - it's something I've done every time I've visited the museum since I was a kid, and it was a nice, nostalgic experience to do it together with Will to close out his first visit to the museum. It has a new, refreshed home—it used to be right by the doors as you entered the museum, but it was causing traffic problems with the increased security measures, so a few years ago they moved it back to a hard-to-find location deeper in the museum. Now it's in an entirely new housing closer to the door (but not nearly as close as it used to be) that gives it a proper showcase.

We said goodbye to Tom on the Metro and then headed out to our motel. We stopped at a barbecue place for dinner after getting off the Metro, and then went back to the room to watch UNC win the national championship before getting a good night's sleep in preparation for the next day's adventures.

Our second day in DC was my birthday, and it was a pretty fun way to celebrate. Will and Julie went out and got breakfast and brought it back to the hotel room, and then we headed into the city after the morning rush hour was over. We got off on the station closest to the Lincoln Memorial and walked down there, then proceeded to walk down past the reflecting pool to the WWII Memorial after we finished with Mr. Lincoln (fun fact: Will discovered a small gift shop in the Lincoln Memorial that I had never noticed or knew even existed during my previous visits).

We took a bunch of pictures at the WWII Memorial—my grandfather who Will is named after was a veteran who served in WWII and the Korean War, and he was actually at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked—and then walked down towards the Washington Monument. Will had been superexcited about going up to the top, but when we got there we found out that it was closed for renovations for at least two years, not opening again at the earliest until sometime in 2019. But he had a fun time anyway running around the base—I don't think he realized quite how big it was from the pictures.

We took a slight detour off the mall to go over and look at the White House. They've got barricades up way, way farther than they used to, so you can't really get that close right now, but we did have some excitement—the presidential motorcade passed in front of us. We got hot dogs from a street vendor for lunch, and then continued back to the mall for the afternoon.

Our first museum stop of the day was the National Gallery, specifically the modern wing, which has been closed for renovations for my last three visits to DC. It's one of my favorite musuems in the world—it has an amazing permanent collection and plenty of space to display everything. Will's not really into art yet, but he doesn't complain about art museums and seems to always find something he likes, so I'll take that over complaining and not wanting to go at all.

The redo seemed mainly oriented around shifting where the administrative spaces were to create more gallery space and then reorganizing the collection around the new configuration, which doesn't seem like it would tak two plus years, but whatever. They also redid the top level spaces, including what they used to call the Chapel, and one of those new spaces featured a whole room dedicated to Mark Rothko, who the museum has a great collection of. There were more than a dozen paintings in the room, and I really could have hung out there for hours if not for the need to keep things moving with Will.

In between the two top level areas there was also a new outdoor patio/sculpture area, which I'm sure must get rented out for parties on a regular basis. There was a giant blue fiberglass rooster that Will loved—we had to go back and see it again before we left (which was fine with me, because it meant I got to walk through the Rothko room again). After a while we also walked down through the tunnel to get to the older wing and spent some time looking at the Impressionist galleries. Overall we probably spent 2-3 hours there, most of it in the newly renovated modern wing.

After the National Gallery, we went down to the natural history museum, where we saw an overwhelming amount of stuff. Here's what I remember: going through the rocks and gems galleries; Will getting to hold a giant hissing cockroach and grinning like a maniac while it was moving around on his hand; and getting entry tickets to the very last session in the butterfly enclosure for the day. It was a lot of fun, and we probably could have spent more time there if it hadn't been closing.

For dinner we found a little noodle place not far from a Metro stop that was on the way back to the hotel called Oki and had a nice meal there. Then it was back to the hotel to get packed up and ready to head back home the next day.

On our final day in DC, we were made aware of the line of severe thunderstorms that were passing through Atlanta during the day, but our flight was a bit later in the day (scheduled to leave DC at 5:30), so we hoped we wouldn't be impacted. But we were wrong.

Very, very wrong.

But that came later. We had a nice leisurely morning in the hotel, followed by a trip to the Air and Space expansion out near Dulles, which was convenient because that was the airport we were supposed to fly out of. We had lunch there, watched an Imax movie, went up in the faux control tower that had great views of the planes coming in for landings at Dulles, and saw all sorts of planes, including several historically significant ones, like an SR-71 Blackbird, the Enola Gay, and the space shuttle Discovery. It was really a great museum that made you realize how cramped the main DC location is, but to build something like that in DC would be prohibitively expensive.

While we were there, we got an update that our flight was now scheduled to leave at 7:30, so we were just planning to hang out there for a little longer. That was the same plan when we were informed that our flight had been delayed to 9:30, and when that time didn't change and the flight didn't get canceled, we headed over to the airport, checked our bag, went through security, and sat down to wait for our flight.

No sooner had Will and Julie gone off to find some dinner than I got a notifcation that our flight had been canceled, so I immediately started to rebook us online using the airline's app rather than going to wait in line with dozens of other people (this strategy has worked well for me in the past). But the app kept erroring out before I could book the tickets it was showing me (likely because their whole system was overloaded from half of their customers trying to rebook flights), and when Julie, who had gone to wait in line to see what they could do for us, finally got to see a ticket agent, they informed us the MAYBE they'd have a standby flight for us by Friday (this was on a Wednesday) but definitely something by Saturday if we booked right then—although it might not be a direct flight to Atlanta.

This is obviously the third and most serious of our travel snafus on this trip. That timeline didn't work for me, so I started to explore other solutions, and the best I came up with was renting a car and driving back to Atlanta. I found a mini SUV that we could drive from Dulles to the Atlanta airport for $60, so I booked it, and half an hour later (around 9:00 at night) we were on our way back to Atlanta.

This was one of the most miserable nights of my life. I was already exhausted, I was coming down with a cold or something, I hadn't had any dinner, and I was facing a ten hour drive on some of the most boring stretches of interstate on the east coast (there is NOTHING on that stretch on 85 between Richmond and Durham—it rivals 20 between Augusta and Atlanta for sheer monotony), mixed with some of the heaviest volume traffic around the major cities.

But Will was great, sleeping the whole time except during our two stops for gas, and Julie was finally able to take over once we were within an hour of Atlanta. It was an awful experience, but at least we were back home safe and not spending two or three days wondering when and how we might eventually get a flight back.

Overall it was a great trip, just with a few more hurdles than we had hoped for. But Will had a great time seeing DC, and I know we could go back there for a whole week next year and still not do and see everything he'd be interested in.

April unexpectedly turned into a big travel month for us. My next trip was a solo business trip to Cleveland about two weeks after we returned from DC, and like my only previous visit to Cleveland, I came away more impressed with the city than I expected.

I was in meetings all day on Tuesday, but I flew in early in the evening on Monday night, so after getting checked into my hotel, I headed immediatley to L'Albatros, a restaurant that I'd been to during my only previous visit to Cleveland. I'd gotten the cassoulet that time, which also included braised pork belly, duck confit, and house-made sausages, and it was one of the best dishes I've ever had. I sought out a dish of similar quality at French restaurants in Atlanta, but nothing came close to the L'Albatros version.

I decided to try some different items on this trip, so after getting a nice quite table for myself in the corner (I've gotten more comfortable with eating alone after traveling so much for work the past few years, and a corner table is nice for watching all the other patrons), I ordered the split pea soup, a house salad, and the seared scallops with shaved brussels sprouts and house-made linguini noodles.

The split pea soup was pretty amazing for such a simple dish, and the house salad could have also been outstanding if they hadn't overdressed it (and I'm someone who usually doesn't mind a bit of extra dressing, so for me to call it overdressed means it was way overdressed). The scallops were perfectly prepared, and the fresh house noodles had the kind of bite to them that you only get with homemade noodles.

I was in a lunch meeting on Tuesday, and I headed to the airport around 4, or otherwise I would have returned to L'Albatros for dinner. I think this might be my second-favorite restaurant in the world, behind only Volt in Frederick, MD, the restaurant owned by former Top Chef finalist Bryan Voltaggio (who lost to his brother in the finale). Little did I know that I'd soon be returning to Cleveland for my third visit to the city and to L'Albatros...

I was somewhat surprisingly given the opportunity to come back to Cleveland a couple of days after returning from my previous trip, and this time Julie and Will were both able to come with me. We flew out late on Friday night, spent Saturday and early Sunday getting to know the city, and flew back midafternoon on Sunday.

Friday night we got in too late to do anything, but Saturday was a pretty full day. We started by driving around and looking at some of the neighborhoods on the east side of town, and then went back to the University Circle area (where our hotel was) and spent a couple of hours in the art museum. We gave Will a choice of the botanical gardens, the science center, or the art museum, and he surprisingly chose the art museum, which makes me hope that this will be an interest that we can share as he gets older.

For lunch on Saturday in between getting to see the city and going to the museum, we returned to L'Albatros for lunch, where I again chose the cassoulet that I enjoyed so much on my first visit to the restaurant a few years ago. Dinner was much more low-key but equally good in its own way: we went to Happy Dog, which lets you pick all sorts of toppings for your hot dog and dips for your fries/tater tots. Will had the most interesting toppings by far: sriracha ketchup, chili, jalapenos, and Fruit Loops. Yes, the cereal. Although I think he got them for the novelty of it, he actually seemed to like it.

We were joined at dinner by my brother and his family, who drove all the way from Toledo to hang out with us for a few hours, and my godmother's son, Jonathan, and his wife, who have lived in Cleveland for almost ten years now and who we haven't seen since they made the move. It was really great to hang out with everyone, and Will especially had a ball playing with my brother's fiancee's grandson, who lives with them and has essentially become a cousin to Will.

We met up with Jonathan and his wife again the next morning at the West Side Market, where we got lunch and wandered around looking at all the vendors. We also went into a glass blowing studio where they were teaching classes before we left, and Will was thrilled to find that they allowed a pet rooster to roam free in the shop.

We went to the airport directly from the West Side Market and got home around dinner time that evening, allowing us to have a somewhat routine end to a hectic (but fun) weekend and get ready for the work week.

This has been quite the travelogue this month, and I can already tell you that May is going to be similar, with a family trip back to Ohio (although not Cleveland this time, even though we're flying into that airport), a business trip to Nashville, and our annual beach vacation to Hilton Head. Aside from a possible work confernce in Chicago in late June, however, I should be here for the rest of the summer.

december 2017
november 2017
october 2017
september 2017
august 2017
july 2017
june 2017
may 2017
april 2017
march 2017
february 2017
january 2017

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