Gene Gray, Author at Starr Tours & Charters
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On the Road Again… To Ocean City, NJ!

Tour Name:  Ocean City, NJ Beach Express
Date:   August 12, 2020
Tour Director:  Gene Gray
Driver:  Walt Deminski

 

Our day began smoothly with 18 pioneers for Starr’s first public bus trip since the pandemic closed everything down in mid-March. And what a wonderful first trip it was! As always I reviewed the bus safety rules and showed the safety video, and then I discussed the new Covid protocols. Everyone adhered to the protocols perfectly. Masks were worn at all times, people used hand sanitizer at every opportunity, and our Tour Guests were pleased with their seat arrangements that provided physical distancing on the bus.

Masks on and ready to roll!

After I reviewed the detailed plan for the day, I provided a brief history of Ocean City, NJ as we traveled southward to  a short rest stop on the Atlantic City Expressway. Once we were on the road again, I played summertime songs such as “Under the Boardwalk,” “Summer in the City,” and “Surfin’ USA” to get everyone hyped up for a fun day at the beach. We arrived on time and parked at the 13th Street Bike Rental Shop and Bathhouse in Ocean City.

Once off the bus, the Tour Guests scattered. Some went to the beach while others walked and shopped. Thankfully, the beach and the boardwalk were not very crowded. People were social distancing and about 50% of the people were wearing masks on the boardwalk. Although it was a warm and humid day, there was a nice ocean breeze that kept us comfortable. The water was 70° and delightful to immerse oneself in. The blue skies gave way to clouds about 2:00 PM but not a drop of rain fell on us. The Tour Guests indulged themselves with treats they remembered receiving as children on family beach vacations. Reminiscing about past memories and reliving a day on the beach and boardwalk keeps you young and vibrant. Everyone agreed that it was GREAT to be out and about after months of being cooped up.

Every ten minutes, a recorded announcement from Ocean City reminded all beach goers and boardwalk walkers to socially distance and wear masks inside all establishments. Signs were posted in every store or restaurant window detailing the State Guidelines to maintain health. I was very impressed with the seriousness with which Ocean City followed the laws set up by the State of New Jersey. At no time did I feel uncomfortable and I’ve been extremely cautious and protective of myself throughout the pandemic.

Everyone arrived at the bus ten minutes early and we were soon on our way home with everyone continuing to follow Starr’s safety protocols throughout the return trip. The trip was perfect in… almost… every way – a real tribute to hard work and diligence of the entire Starr family. Unfortunately, one Tour Guest’s ice cream met an untimely demise at the hands claws of a seagull who decided to ruffle up her hair and make off with the sweet treat. Other than that, everyone had a wonderful and fulfilling day and there was hardly a sound on the bus as everyone was totally exhausted after a long day of play in Ocean City.

I enjoy working with Starr Driver Walt Deminski (my partner in crime for last year’s Cross Country trip) and he was once again a pleasure to team up with. He always goes above and beyond and it is often the little touches that he includes on his bus that add extra delights to the experience. This trip, he made sure to secure his stuffed camel in the front of the bus in honor of it being “hump day.” Both he and I made sure we led by example and masked up in or around the bus at all times.

We are smiling behind the masks – I promise!

Walt and I met up with two passengers from my 2018 Cross Country trip who live in Ocean City. Jacque McLeer and and her sister, Mary Crane, read on Starr’s Facebook Page that I’d be down in Ocean City for the day and texted me about 11:00 AM. We met at 2:00 PM and caught up for nearly an hour. It was great seeing both of them. Mary and Jacque are already booked for our 2021 Cross Country Trip and are looking forward to their upcoming Mackinac Island Trip with Starr this coming weekend!

On a personal note, it was GREAT for me to be back on the road. I didn’t realize how much I had missed traveling with Starr. I so appreciate the measures Starr has created to make travel as safe and worry free as possible. I know the passengers were grateful and I certainly was as well. I definitely feel more confident to escort more trips after having experienced the safety protocols taken on this trip and I very much appreciate the monumental efforts Starr has gone through to remove as many anxieties from the travel experience as possible.

The Starr staff continues to be at the top of their game. 😊

 

Happy Trails Until We Meet Again,
Gene

Christmastime in New York 2019

On Saturday, December 21, 2019, I traveled into New York City as a tour guest on Starr Bus #207 with  skilled Bus Driver, Andrzej Prawica. Our itinerary provided us with the magnificent Christmas Spectacular featuring the world famous Radio City Rockettes sandwiched between a generous five hours to explore the dazzling displays and holiday magic that only New York City can provide this time of year. Being that the temperature was below freezing, I decided to spend my entire day in the Rockefeller Center vicinity; 5th and 6th Avenues between 49th and 51st Streets.

Radio City and NBC Studios are the cornerstones of Rockefeller Center. Rockefeller Center was named after billionaire John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who leased the space from Columbia University in 1928 and developed it beginning in 1930. Since the Great Depression hit America in 1929, and money was difficult to come by, Rockefeller had the choice to abandon development of this property or finance the entire project himself. He choose the latter. Between loans from the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company and profits and sale of company stocks from his oil business, Rockefeller was able to supply the $250 million price tag in 1930 to commence construction. The buildings were completed and opened in 1939. The entire project employed over 40,000 workers.

I first walked to the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. Adorned with over 50,000 colored LED lights stretching some five miles in length, this magnificent Norway Spruce from the city of Florida, New York, stood tall and proud, especially with its brilliant Swarovski Star planted at the top. People were everywhere snapping pictures and taking selfies. Ice skaters were giving their best efforts on the famous Rockefeller Center Ice Skating Rink below. The City was alive with people from all over the world as many languages and accents could clearly be heard.

It was a bucket list item of mine fulfilled twenty years ago to ice skate under the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. While watching the skaters from above, many fond memories from that day came roaring back. Being a decent ice skater, I remembered skating with Santa Claus and dodging novice skaters as they slipped and fell. My exhilaration came from feeling the cold air against my face and staring up into the beautifully lit Christmas Tree and gold statue of Prometheus just beneath it. Today, you can wait on line and pay general admission to skate for 90 minutes on this prime New York real estate for $38 per person during the holiday season. Skate rentals are an additional fee. However, I learned that you could enter the ice from the very special VIP entrance, located in the basement of NBC Studios, for a mere $175 for 90 minutes (skate rentals included and no line to wait on). I also learned the VIP admission comes with free hot chocolate.

Last year, FAO Schwartz reopened their infamous toy store in Rockefeller Center. At 10:30 in the morning, there was already a fifteen minute wait outside to get into the store. I decided to wait and soon entered FAO Schwartz. At first glance, I was faced with giant stuffed giraffes and pandas lurking above me on platforms. Salespeople were demonstrating items from magical colorful drawing boards to flying objects that soar in the air. The stuffed animals placed strategically around the store are FAO Schwartz’s trademark and prime sellers. Three floors of toys including a section for Legos and a Build A Bear Workshop provide children from ages “one to ninety-two” with smiles, dreams, and memories. It was a fun experience for me.

I was feeling a bit hungry so I walked into the NBC Studios Building for lunch. I learned there were many fast-serve restaurants one level down in the basement. But first, the NBC Studio Gift Shop was directly in front of me on street level, so I decided to walk in. There was much excitement going on today at NBC. This evening, Eddie Murphy was scheduled to host SNL (Saturday Night Live) with special musical guest, Lizzo. I learned that NBC creates a Tee Shirt commemorating each SNL show with the date, host, and musical guest printed on it. However, tonight’s shirt had been sold out within minutes of being placed on the floor. The staff was putting an additional number of shirts out for sale at 7:00 PM tonight, but I knew I’d be leaving New York at 5:00 PM. I would have loved to have purchased this one of a kind shirt (despite its $40 price tag) but couldn’t. I had a very good lunch consisting of chicken noodle soup and a half sandwich for under $10 (not bad for New York and Rockefeller Center). By the time I finished lunch, Radio City had opened its doors letting people into the 1:30 PM matinee.

Radio City is arguably the most iconic Music Hall in the world and is the largest indoor theater with a seating capacity of 6,000. Radio City was built with funds supplied from both John D. Rockefeller and the Radio Corporation of America’s (RCA) and was opened in 1932. The Art Deco Masterpiece was designed by Donald Deskey. The magnificent stage is 100 feet in length and 60 feet in width and still features the original hydraulic-powered elevators that allow for all the spectacular special effects used in staging their performances. In 1999, Radio City underwent a seven month, $70 million dollar restoration.

The Radio City Rockettes, as you would expect, were the highlight of the Christmas Spectacular. The first Christmas Show featuring the Rockettes occurred in 1933. At that time, a first- run movie was featured at Radio City followed by a 30 minute live stage performance featuring the Rockettes. In 1979, Radio City removed the movie and created the format, a 90-minute live stage show, that still exists today. The high-kicking, exact precision, and perfectly choreographed dance steps define the Rockettes. Adding brilliant costumes and creative scenarios, one sits in awe and amazement whenever this talented group of ladies perform. A well deserved standing ovation at the show’s conclusion was eagerly provided by the audience. I was pleased to see that the Rockettes “March of the Wooden Soldiers” segment continues to be performed year after year and is, for me, the highlight of the show.

Following the Radio City Spectacular, I meandered around 49th Street to 51st Street taking in the larger crowds around the Christmas Tree. Tourists from all over the world were dancing in the streets (since the streets were closed to vehicular traffic) to the sounds of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” I walked towards the majestic St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the beautifully decorated windows of Saks Fifth Avenue. It was there I saw and heard motor-cyclers dressed in Santa Claus outfits roaring down 5th Avenue. After stopping into a few stores, it was time to return to the Starr Bus for our relaxing bus ride home.

It was a magnificent Christmastime visit into New York City, one that encompassed all the senses and brought back magical Christmas memories from years past. I highly recommend traveling into New York City during the Holiday Season, and especially with Starr. Starr offers lots of different bus trips to New York City. Creating new memories at Christmas is magical for children of ALL AGES.

Washington, DC: Our Nation’s Capital

Earlier this month, Tour Director Gene Gray and Driver Mike Smith led 48 Starr travelers through our nation’s capital over a 3-day weekend. On each of our trips, the Starr Tour Director is responsible for submitting a summary of the tour in day-by-day fashion. Gene takes this responsibility to the next level and provides a beautifully written report that makes you feel like you were actually on the tour! We invite you to read Gene’s report below:

Tour Name:  Washington DC: Our Nation’s Capital

Date:     October 4 – 6, 2019

Driver:  Michael Smith


Day 1: Friday, October 4, 2019

Michael and I welcomed our 48 tour guests onto our comfortable bus as we traveled south and made sure everyone (along with their luggage) was safely aboard. On this Friday morning, traffic flowed freely into DC and we made good time. While on the bus, I reviewed the Starr Welcome Letter and showed the Safety Video. I then reviewed the pages of the information packet I made for our tour guests.  The packet included maps, dinner suggestions, and a detailed itinerary for each day of our vacation.

We have a fascinating group of tour guests for this trip to our nation’s capital. We have several people in their upper 80s, one who was 95 years young, and one teenager who is currently a freshman in high school. For the first time in my four year Starr tenure, we had tour guests representing each of the Armed Forces: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard. Using my music library and the bus’ sound system, I enthusiastically played the “Armed Forces Medley” honoring our Veterans which resulted in resounding applause upon completion. One tour guest, Ed, spent 14 months in Vietnam in 1968-69 and was wounded. This was his first visit ever to Washington, DC and he was looking forward to finally seeing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Our tour bus pulled up to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts a little after noon. Upon entering the building at the Foyer Level, you are struck with a long corridor with a 30 foot high arched ceiling containing flags from countries around the world as far as the eyes can see. The area is so vast and spacious, you hear echoes all around you. We took the elevator up to the 15th floor called “The Terrace” for lunch at KC Café. The cafeteria had just opened and we were the only customers buying lunch. The Café was stocked with fruit, soup, sandwiches, and had a grill with people preparing burgers, chicken sandwiches, and hot dogs, along with a variety of drinks. Everyone enjoyed their lunch. I had a chance to touch base with all of my tour guests and answer their questions.

After lunch, many people went outside on the terrace for magnificent 360° views of Washington DC. The skies were clear with patchy cumulus clouds and you could see the 555 foot Washington Monument towering to the left as well as the Lincoln Memorial to the right. The terrace provided magnificent photo opportunities to say the least.

We took the elevator to Level A, one level below the Foyer, to the Gift Shop and the Tour Desk. We were to meet our tour guide at the desk at 2:00 PM for our Guided Tour of the Kennedy Center. Since we were all ready to begin our tour by 1:15, the guides were more than willing to begin immediately and divided us into two groups of 25. Each group went off in different directions to begin their tour.

The Kennedy Center has four large theaters including the largest, the Opera Theater, seating more than 3000 people, from which they hold the “Kennedy Center Honors” awards show each year. We were shown the President’s Box that includes a bathroom, concessions, and very comfortable chairs. The Box seats eight people and is heavily guarded by secret service whenever the President is in attendance. We were shown magnificent artwork hanging on the massive walls, beautiful one ton chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, and a 3000 pound bronze bust of John F. Kennedy. Since the Arts Center was the original idea of President Eisenhower, our 34th President has a theater named in his honor. The Eisenhower Theater is the second largest theater in the Kennedy Center and has a seating capacity of just under 3000. It is adorned with a bust and photograph of Eisenhower at the theater’s entrance. Our tour concluded at the colorful and delicate chandelier created by artist Dale Chihuly.

Mike delivered our luggage to the Hyatt Centric Hotel in Arlington while we were inside the Kennedy Center and when we arrived at the hotel, the manager was ready with our keys. We now had three hours of “down time” to relax and enjoy a good dinner before our Twilight Riding Tour of DC beginning at 7:00 PM.

Mike and I planned a 90-minute tour for our guests. Although this was supposed to be a riding tour, we made stops at the Jefferson Memorial, the FDR Memorial, the Martin Luther King Memorial as well as the Lincoln, Korean, and Vietnam Memorials. The tour guests disembarked and walked to see the great statues lit up at night. We then did a drive by of the WWII Memorial and the White House before returning to the hotel for the night.

It was a long and fruitful first day of our Washington, DC adventure.


Day 2: Saturday, October 5, 2019

The Hyatt Centric Hotel was extremely accommodating with very comfortable rooms and our guests gave me positive feedback about the staff and the location. Breakfast was a full buffet with choices of cereal, eggs, bacon, pancakes, fruit, juices, and coffees. The person in charge was constantly replenishing the buffet and everyone enjoyed it.

I met our Washington DC “Step-On” Guide, Michelle Heller, at the hotel and we reviewed her plans for our 4-hour tour. (Local guides that come on to our bus for local touring are aptly called “Step on Guides.”) Michele gave us a thorough tour of DC’s seven memorials plus she showed the future location of the Persian Gulf Memorial for which funds are currently being raised. She was a most remarkable and knowledgeable guide of our nation’s capital.

We did a drive-by of the Jefferson Memorial since it is a longer walk from where the bus has to park to reach the steps and statue. Franklin D. Roosevelt led the way for the building of the Jefferson Memorial and purposely placed the memorial in a straight line from the White House so he could always view Jefferson from his White House window.

We disembarked at the FDR Memorial and Michelle brilliantly spoke about its every aspect. While facing a statue of FDR in a wheelchair at the entrance, Michelle explained this was the newest addition to the memorial to honor people who are disabled. Roosevelt created his own wheelchair out of his most comfortable kitchen chair by having wheels put on it. He always worked to hide his handicap to the public due to public perception concerns. The FDR Memorial is divided into four distinct sections, one for each of his four terms in office. Of course, since he passed away only 80 days into his fourth term, the final section is a touching memorial to this great President. Eleanor Roosevelt is also featured in this fourth section; she is the only First Lady to have a statue in her honor in Washington, DC.

The Martin Luther King Memorial was just as enlightening. Michelle continued to feed us the most fascinating facts. Symbolism abounds all over Washington. The powerful MLK Memorial depicts the face and chest of MLK within a a marble structure that symbolizes a mountain. Since MLK never made it to the mountaintop, his body is purposely left unfinished. His face points in the direction of the Jefferson Memorial since Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “All Men are Created Equal,” and his eyes are staring directly at the statue of Eleanor Roosevelt who strongly led the charge that “Racism Destroys Democracy.” Brilliant words from Dr. King are printed on surrounding walls, but his famous “I Have A Dream Speech” is nowhere to be found because the creators wanted people to learn lesser known speeches at this memorial. Dr. King had a formula for each of his speeches and would include four topics in each; Justice, Democracy, Hope, and Love. This memorial is powerful, emotional, and a must see.

The Korean Memorial is all about the number 38. The 38th parallel divided Korea into North and South. Since Korea was divided in half, the creators erected 19 bronze statues (half of 38) all within a heavily vegetated area to symbolize the difficult terrain of Korea. The flagpole sits at the circular Pool of Remembrance exactly at the 38° angle of the circle. The words “FREEDOM IS NOT FREE” are printed on a wall decorated with flowers.

Michelle continued the tour with great facts about the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam Memorial. She gave us free time to walk up the 87 (four score and seven) steps to the Lincoln Memorial and time to examine the Vietnam Memorial in detail. I accompanied our Starr tour guest who was the 14 year Veteran of the Vietnam War,  and his wife to the Vietnam Memorial. I was surprised and emotional at his first reaction to the memorial when he cried out, “This war was a disgrace. We never should have been involved in it in the first place. The reason for the war was for economic gains of the wealthy in both countries.” He continued, “None of these names should have needed to be inscribed here.” He was emotional, angry, and visibly upset. Both his wife and I felt his anguish and became quite emotional as well.

Michelle gave us a tour to remember for a lifetime. She brought Washington, DC to life for all of us and provided a perspective of the city that everyone should experience.

At 12:15 PM, our bus dropped us off at the Smithsonian Castle for four hours of exploration on our own in our choice of museum(s) within the Smithsonian Institution. Many  visited the Air and Space Museum and others walked across to the Mall to the National Museum of American History. A few spent much time in the American Museum of Natural History. Two walked to the National Museum of African American History & Culture and were able to get in without tickets. Although they waited in long lines, they were pleased with what they saw. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed their time at the Smithsonian.

After returning to our hotel to freshen up a bit, 32 of our 48 tour guests chose to travel into Old Town Alexandria for dinner, shopping, and sightseeing. From the bus drop off spot at 301 King Street to the Potomac River three blocks away down a small decline, the tour guests had 10 restaurants to choose from and a plethora of shops to step into. Restaurants included seafood, Italian, Thai, Mexican, American, and Japanese. Everyone enjoyed their dinner and time in Old Town Alexandria.

Today was a day filled with nationalism, learning, and fun; the perfect combination to feed the soul.


Day 3: Sunday, October 6, 2019

Breakfast today was as good as yesterday. Per my instruction, every tour guest had their luggage outside their door for pickup by 7:00 AM. Most were down to breakfast at 7:00 AM. We departed from the hotel promptly at 8:00 AM to maximize our time at Arlington National Cemetery.

We were the first bus to park at Arlington and I was first at the ticket booth to get our tickets and brochures. After being first through Security, we all left on the first tram of the day. GREAT TIMING!!!

Many Starr guests got off the tram at the John F. Kennedy Gravesite. Others continued on to catch the 9:00 AM Changing of the Guard Ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. At the Kennedy Gravesite, the first thing to catch your eye as you approach the graves is the Eternal Flame rising into the cool morning air. In front of the flame lie JFK and Jackie side by side. Six feet to both sides lie their two children who passed while very young. The grave area is filled in with cobblestones rather than grass. A waist-high wall at the entrance is inscribed with famous words spoken by President Kennedy throughout his presidency. One section quotes his “Ask not what your country can do for you” speech. As you walk down the the pathway, you see the grave of Robert Kennedy that is represented by a white cross. Another white cross represents the grave of Edward (Teddy) Kennedy. Older brother Joseph Kennedy who died in WWII was moved here and lies near Edward. The entire memorial is beautifully done and a fitting tribute to this magnificent American First Family.

The next tram stop was the Amphitheater. Behind the amphitheater sits The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Sal, a Starr tour guest and Vietnam Veteran, proudly wore his Vietnam Veterans baseball cap all weekend. He and I climbed a few marble steps to take a peek inside the circular amphitheater. Once inside, we noticed about 60 teenagers seated and being lectured to by their teacher. Once the teacher saw Sal wearing his hat, he hollered, “You, sir, in the green shirt, THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE!!!” All 60 students turned and gave him rousing applause. We both broke down emotionally. The teacher proudly continued speaking to his students, “I knew we would meet a Vietnam Vet. I’m so glad he was here for you so you could see what I’ve been telling you.”

The word “Discipline” defines the Changing of the Guard Ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Members of Army Regiment 3 watch over the Tomb day and night, 365 days a year. You see two immaculately dressed soldiers emerge from beneath the Tomb; one higher ranking member and one Guard who will replace the Guard currently on duty. They take one slow disciplined step after another and approach the current Guard on duty. Upon hearing the piercing command, “HALT,” the Guard on duty stops immediately. The higher ranking officer then tediously examines the rifle of the newcomer, inspects his uniform, and only after he is totally satisfied with the cleanliness of his weapon and tidiness of his uniform does he continue with the ceremony. He then turns, faces us, and barks, “YOU ARE ABOUT TO WITNESS THE CHANGING OF THE GUARD. EVERYONE MUST REMAIN ABSOLUTELY SILENT. EVERYONE MUST STAND AT ATTENTION. THANK YOU!!!” He then proceeds with the ceremony, every aspect with strict discipline. At the conclusion, as the former Guard and high ranking official disappear beneath the Tomb, everyone wonders whether it’s alright to talk or, for that matter, breathe again. Someone in the crowd takes the lead and soon people begin to slowly leave the viewing area. Everyone must experience this magnificent ceremony firsthand at least once in their lifetime.

Both the gravesite of Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier in American History, and the Space Shuttle Disasters Memorial are located adjacent to the amphitheater. Many of us walked to both of these and took pictures.  Boxer Joe Lewis is also interred here next to the amphitheater. We then hopped on the next tram and continued with our guided tour around Arlington Cemetery. We passed the gravesite of Howard Taft, the only other President, besides JFK, buried in Arlington Cemetery. The tour guide also pointed out the grave of Abner Doubleday, a Civil War Veteran and probable inventor of baseball. We returned to the starting point and disembarked the tram. Many stopped into the Gift Shop prior to walking to our bus.

Many of our tour guests had enough time to see all of the Kennedy Gravesites, the Changing of the Guard Ceremony, AND take the 10 minute walk to the US Marine Corp War Memorial (aka Iwo Jima Marines Memorial) that borders Arlington National Cemetery. It was fabulous to be the first to arrive and provide extra time for our tour guests to explore Arlington on their own.

We drove to the Air Force Memorial featuring three stainless steel spires soaring into the sky at heights between 210 and 270 feet. They symbolize three airplanes flying in unison with the fourth missing to symbolize those killed in action.  The tour guests enjoyed this short stop that overlooks the Pentagon and views of Washington, DC.

Our lunch stop was at the Pentagon City Mall. There are many restaurants to choose from including a full food court on the lower level. There was something for everyone. Back on the bus and heading home, I gave out the Starr Surveys, Starr Catalogs, and showed the film “To Hell and Back,” the 1949 film about the life of Audie Murphy. Audie Murphy starred in the film as well and plays himself. After a short rest stop at the newly designed Chesapeake House, all tour guests were dropped off without incident and in a timely manner.

This was a powerful weekend filled with emotional moments, strong feelings of pride towards our country, and much information and learning about our Nation’s Capital. Everyone had a wonderful experience, including me.

Post Script:  Starr offers many trips (day trips and multi-day trips) to Washington, DC. 2020 Tours are still being loaded but click here at any time to see what’s being offered.

Read some of Gene’s previous tour reports:
Starr’s 2019 Alaska Cruise Experience
Cross Country Adventures by Bus 2019 – Westbound – Part 1 of 2 
Cross Country Adventures by Bus 2019 – Eastbound – Part 2 of 2
Cross Country Adventures by Bus 2018 – Westbound – Part 1 of 2
Cross Country Adventures by Bus 2018 – Eastbound – Part 2 of 2

Cross Country 2019 – Statistics at a Glance

Just how many miles did our Cross Country tour guests travel? How many hotels did they sleep in? How many National Parks did they visit? Find the answers to these questions and more in Tour Director Gene Gray’s…

2019 Cross Country Statistics at a Glance!

20 Hotels:
Drury Inn & Suites NW, Grove City, OH
Drury Inn & Suites, Louisville East, KY
Country Inn & Suites, Nashville, TN
Hilton Garden Inn, Little Rock, AR
Hampton Inn Oklahoma City NW, OK
Country Inn & Suites, Amarillo, TX
Drury Inn & Suites, Albuquerque, NM
Hampton Inn, Sedona, AZ
Drury Inn & Suites, Chandler, AZ
Doubletree Hotel, San Diego, CA
Sportsmen’s Lodge Studio City, CA
New York New York Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, NV
Holiday Inn Express, Flagstaff, AZ
Aarchway Inn, Moab, UT
Drury Inn & Suites, Denver, CO
Comfort Inn & Suites, Hays, KS
Drury Inn & Suites Kansas City, MO
Drury Plaza Downtown, St. Louis, MO
Drury Inn Indianapolis, IN
Drury Plaza Hotel, Cleveland, OH
(That’s 9 Drury Hotels!)

34 Attractions:
Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, KY
Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, KY
Churchill Downs, Louisville, KY
Grand Ole Opry, Nashville, TN
Graceland & Elvis, Memphis, TN
Clinton Presidential Library, Little Rock, AR
Oklahoma City Memorial Museum, OK
Jack Sisemore Travel & RV Museum, Amarillo, TX
Big Texan Steak Ranch, Amarillo, TX
Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, TX
Sandia Peak Tramway, Albuquerque, NM
Petrified Forest & Painted Desert, AZ
Coyote Canyon Jeep Tour (Pink Jeep), Sedona, AZ
Western Spirit Museum, Scottsdale, AZ
Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
Old Town San Diego, CA
Historic Downtown San Juan Capistrano
San Diego Zoo
Mission San Juan Capistrano
San Diego Bay Cruise on Spirit of San Diego
Warner Brothers Studio Tour, Los Angeles
Arches National Park
Canyonlands Dinner & Night Cruise, UT
Harry S. Truman Presidential Library
Bingham-Waggoner Estate, Independence
Arabia Steamboat Mus, Kansas City, MO
Old Courthouse, St. Louis, MO
Gateway Arch, St. Louis
Farmers Market & Hollywood Walk of Fame
Las Vegas NV Attractions (Create Your Own)
St. Louis Riverboat Cruise
Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, IN
Farewell Dinner at Hofbrauhaus Restaurant, Cleveland, OH
Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland, OH

3 Boat Cruises:
San Diego Bay Cruise (Day 12)
Canyonlands National Park Night Cruise on the Colorado River (Day 19)
St. Louis Riverboat Cruise (Day 24)

7 National Parks or Memorials:
Central School Museum, Little Rock, Arkansas
Oklahoma City Memorial Museum (Day 6)
Petrified Forest and Painted Desert National Park, Arizona (Day 9)
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona (Day 18)
Canyonlands National Park, Utah by Night (Day 19)
Arches National Park, Utah (Day 20)
Gateway Arch National Park, St. Louis, Missouri

2 Iconic Race Tracks:
Churchill Downs, Louisville, KY (Day 3)
Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Speedway, IN (Day 25)

18 Museums & Tours:
Louisville Slugger Museum, KY (Day 2)
Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, Louisville, KY (Day 2)
Kentucky Derby Museum, Louisville, KY (Day 3)
Graceland (The Elvis Experience) in Memphis, TN (Day 4)
President Clinton Memorial Library, Little Rock, AR (Day 5)
Oklahoma City Memorial Museum, OK (Day 6)
Jack Sizemore Travel & RV Museum, Amarillo, TX (Day 7)
Coyote Canyon Pink Jeep Tour, Sedona, AZ (Day 10)
Western Spirit Museum, Scottsdale, AZ (Day 10)
San Diego Zoo (Day 12)
Mission San Juan Capistrano, CA (Day 13)
Warner Brothers Studio Tour, Los Angeles, CA (Day 14)
Arabia Steamboat Museum, Kansas City, MO (Day 22)
Bingham-Waggoner Estate, Independence, MO (Day 23)
Harry S. Truman Presidential Library, Independence, MO (Day 23)
Old Courthouse, St. Louis, MO (Day 24)
Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, IN (Day 25)
Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland, OH (Day 26)

2 Attractions That Take Us Up Up & Away:
Sandia Peak Tramway in Albuquerque, New Mexico (Day 8)
St. Louis Arch Tram Ride in St. Louis, Missouri

Show(s):
Grand Ole Opry, Nashville, TN (Day 3)
Las Vegas – On Own (Days 15 & 16)
Light Show on the Colorado River in Canyonlands National Park (Day 19)

Meals Provided by Starr:
20 Breakfasts: Days 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26 & 27
3 Lunches: Louisville Slugger Museum (Day 2)
$15 Voucher at Vernon’s Smokehouse at Graceland (Day 4)
Petrified Forest National Park (Day 9)
4 Dinners: Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo, TX (Day 7), Canyonlands Dutch Oven Dinner on the Banks of the Colorado River (Day 19), Rigazzi’s Restaurant in St. Louis (Day 23), Hofbrauhaus Restaurant in Cleveland (Day 26)

6 Breakfasts On Own:
Days 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, & 17

We Traveled Through 19 States:
NJ, PA, WV, OH, KY, TN, AR, OK, TX, NM, AZ, CA, NV, UT, CO, KS, MO, IL, IN

We Slept in 20 Different Cities and 14 States:
Grove City, OH; Louisville, KY; Nashville, TN; Little Rock, AR; Oklahoma City, OK; Amarillo, TX; Albuquerque, NM; Sedona, AZ; Chandler, AZ; Dan Diego, CA; Los Angeles, CA; Las Vegas, NV; Flagstaff, AZ; Moab, UT; Denver, CO; Hays, KS; Kansas City, MO; St. Louis, MO; Indianapolis, IN; Cleveland, OH

We Stayed in 7 Capital Cities in the United States:
Grove City (Columbus), Ohio; Nashville, Tennessee; Little Rock, Arkansas; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Chandler (Phoenix), Arizona; Denver, Colorado; and Indianapolis, Indiana

We Passed Through 4 Time Zones:
Eastern, Central, Mountain, & Pacific Time Zones

We Rode on These Major Routes and Highways:
• I-76 West, I-70 West into Grove City, Ohio
• I-71 South to Louisville, Kentucky
• I-65 South to Nashville, Tennessee
• I-40 West (AKA Route 66) to Memphis, Tennessee, Little Rock, Arkansas, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Amarillo, Texas, & Albuquerque, New Mexico
• I-40 West & Route 89A South to Sedona, Arizona
• I-17 South to Scottsdale, Arizona
• I-8 West into San Diego, California
• I-5 North to Los Angeles, California
• I-10 East & I-15 North to Las Vegas, Nevada
• I-40 East to Flagstaff, Arizona
• Arizona Route 89 North to Route 64 West to the Grand Canyon
• Arizona Route 89 North to Route 160 East to Utah Route 191 North to Moab, Utah, Canyonlands, and Arches National Park
• I-70 East to Denver, Colorado, Hays, Kansas, Kansas City, Missouri, St. Louis, Missouri, and Indianapolis, Indiana
• I-70 East to I-71 North to Cleveland, Ohio
• I-80 South to I-76 East to Home

Starr Bus #206 with Bus Driver Walt Deminski and Tour Director Gene Gray

The Total Number of Miles We Rode was 6,921.

How much fun we had: INFINITE!

Cross Country Adventures by Bus 2019 – Eastbound – Part 2 of 2

Our Cross Country Adventure story continues with the Eastbound Tour Director write up from Gene Gray.
(Click here to read the first half!)

 

Day 15: Sunday, July 14, 2019

EASTBOUND

Upon turning on the news in the morning, I learned that Paul McCartney played a concert at Dodgers Stadium last night and brought out Ringo Starr to play two songs as his guest. The audience went wild. To think I was so close to the venue……..

In all my excitement about Paul and Ringo reuniting on stage, and since the Beatles played two of their most infamous concerts at the Hollywood Bowl in August of 1964 and 1965, I played four Beatles songs to get us going this morning: “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “I Saw Her Standing There.” We were leaving beautiful Los Angeles and beginning our trip East for the first time.

Everyone was looking forward to being in Las Vegas. Some had made definite plans while others were in the process. This morning I spoke about the history of Las Vegas and followed it up with the 50 minute documentary by the History Channel, “Las Vegas.”  After a twenty minute rest stop at a Loves Truck Stop in Barstow, California, I reviewed the Las Vegas Packet (another project I accomplished prior to his trip) in detail and encouraged everyone to create a plan for tonight and tomorrow. Many tour guests were intrigued by Downtown Fremont Street and the Fremont Experience so I decided right then to go to Fremont Street this afternoon and lead the way. Seven of us wound up taking the Deuce (Las Vegas’s Bus) to The Fremont Street Experience at 5:00 PM and four others went later at night.

We stopped for lunch at the Baker Travel Plaza with five fast food establishments under one air conditioned roof to choose from. I can only describe this place as an oasis in the desert since there was nothing but dry desert conditions for miles and miles until now. Everyone enjoyed their lunch and we were back on the road in less than an hour. I played the Elvis’s movie, “Viva Las Vegas,” a “B” rated movie at best but with great music and of course, Elvis and Ann Margaret. Everyone enjoyed it very much as we pulled into the New York New York Hotel & Casino at 2:20 PM, one hour ahead of schedule.

After handing out the room keys, I led the tour guests inside the New York New York and to the New Yorker Tower B elevators that led to their rooms. The eleven tour guests who chose to join me at 4:30 PM were provided with a mini tour of our hotel including a walk to the bridge that crosses over Las Vegas Boulevard to the MGM Grand side of the street. From there, we split up and went our own separate ways with seven of us taking the Deuce together to Downtown Las Vegas and the Fremont Street Experience.

From conversations I had with tour guests earlier in the day regarding their plans for tomorrow, some were staying in the New York New York for both days to enjoy this beautiful hotel to the fullest. Some were planning to buy show tickets (or already had tickets) to a Cirque Du Soleil, comedy show, or musical review. One was taking a helicopter ride over Lake Meade, the Hoover Dam, and the Grand Canyon. And a few guests were deciding to go to the Mob Museum and the Pawn Stars Pawn Shop in the Downtown Area.

From this point on, WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS STAYS IN VEGAS. I’ll just say that the Fremont Street Experience is weird, unpredictable, and loud. In my opinion, it’s a must-see experience. Tomorrow is our fun-filled full day in Las Vegas. Everyone is doing their own bucket list items. I wish everyone a great day.

 

Day 17: Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Two nights in Las Vegas simply whets one’s appetite for much more. However, we were all packed and ready to leave at 8:30 AM satisfied with our choices the past two days.

Traveling East towards Flagstaff, we had many beautiful views of Lake Meade surrounded by colorful canyons. We crossed into Arizona and stopped at the Flying J Travel Center in Kingman for a short rest stop.

Lunch reservations were made at the Roadkill Cafe in Seligman, Arizona on Route 66. The cafe’s motto is “You Kill It, We Grill It.” We enjoyed riding on Historic Route 66. Some parts were four lanes split in each direction and others were two lanes together in each direction. The road was nicely paved and sparsely traveled.

Upon arrival to the Roadkill Cafe, the bus pulled into a dirt parking area sending dust flying in every direction. We disembarked in front of the cafe as Walt found a spot to park at an abandoned gas station across the street. There were a few buildings around us including a General Store, a self standing jail, and a western saloon. We entered the Roadkill Cafe and were warmly greeted by Aaron, who had reserved three spacious tables for our group.

The Route 66 Gift Shop was located in the Cafe and many tour guests were able to peruse the gift shop before being served. The burgers (elk, bison, or hamburger) were thick and cooked to perfection. The salads (chicken or chef) were huge and delicious. The chicken fingers were plentiful and lightly fried. The food was enjoyed by everyone. I personally thanked Aaron and his staff for doing such a great job for us and his reply was, “Thank you for choosing us.” We were finished eating quickly and had plenty of time to shop in the Route 66 Store, the General Store adjacent to the Cafe, and take pictures in jail and with the other western facades. We had found another oasis in the desert.

We took I-40 into Flagstaff and I provided the tour guests with information on the magnificent Grand Canyon. I spoke about John Wesley Powell, the first person to raft through the rapids of the Colorado River through the Canyon. Jane Coulter was an architect and built the Bright Angel Lodge as well as the Desert View Tower to match the ruggedness of the Grand Canyon.  Fred Harvey started restaurants at each train stop out west and hired single women known as Harvey Girls to serve the customers. I then showed the fifty minute IMAX film titled “The Grand Canyon; The Hidden Secrets.” The movie is still shown outside the Grand Canyon in the IMAX Theater. Our guests enjoyed the documentary very much. We did arrive at our Holiday Inn in Flagstaff on schedule and had the remainder of the evening to relax, do laundry (which was where half of our tour guests were partying together), swim, or go out to eat at the adjacent Denny’s or Northern Pines.

Today was a more relaxed day of travel. We were all looking forward to seeing the Grand Canyon tomorrow.

 

Day 18: Wednesday, July 17, 2019

We awoke to crystal clear blue skies and temperatures in the upper 70s with no humidity; a sharp contrast to the hot, humid, and rainy conditions we were hearing about at home. Everyone was ready to leave the hotel a little early and we did. The Grand Canyon is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, and my favorite place to visit on earth. I sensed great energy and enthusiasm from all our tour guests.

Walt drove us today thus becoming the first Starr Driver in quite some time to actually do the driving to the Grand Canyon. In the past, the Starr Driver’s scheduled day off was this day and we called in another bus company to transport us to the Canyon. However, that was not the case today. This was also Walt’s first time to the Grand Canyon. As always, he did a fabulous job and loved the Grand Canyon as well.

I played a lot of music during our 90 minute drive to the Grand Canyon from Flagstaff. Tour guests were also requesting songs and we enjoyed the ride and scenic views as well. We arrived at the Grand Canyon and the Desert View overlook 45 minutes before we were to meet our Grand Canyon Tour Guide, Carrie, at 10:00 AM. That gave us plenty of time to walk to the Canyon Rim for our first awe inspiring glimpse of the Grand Canyon. One also gets a terrific view of the meandering Colorado River one mile below at the bottom of the Canyon. I love seeing and hearing people’s reactions when they see the Grand Canyon for the first time. It is awe inspiring for me.

Pictures of the Grand Canyon are beautiful but cannot capture the grandeur of this natural wonder. The top layer of rock, kaibob Limestone, is 270 million years old. The bottom layer of rock, the Vishnu Schist, is 2 billion years old. The seven layers in between create an array of color that is unimaginable. And, as the sun and clouds move over the Grand Canyon throughout the day, the colors change from minute to minute. Looking into the Grand Canyon is a sensory explosion for all who visit.

Carrie was a wonderful guide. We stopped at three overlooks before reaching the Village, 22 miles from Desert View. Carrie provided us with great information and was extremely passionate in her presentation.

The Grand Canyon Village area is the location of the Bright Angel Lodge, the El Tovar Hotel, the Artist Studio, and a magnificent rim walk above the Canyon. We had lunch at one of four establishments at the Bright Angel Lodge and shopped for Grand Canyon treasures in this area. Many walked the rim and all were able to experience the Grand Canyon on their own personal level.

Having planned the remainder of the day, Walt and I continued our tour by stopping at the General Store in the Market area for additional opportunities to shop Grand Canyon apparel and souvenirs. Our next stop was Yavapai Point and the Geology Museum for great views of Phantom Ranch and the suspension bridge over the Colorado River at the bottom of the Canyon. Pack Mules travel daily down the Canyon, cross the suspension bridge at Phantom Ranch, and carry food and supplies while carrying out garbage. Phantom Ranch is where hikers can get a permit to camp overnight. Our final stop was the Grand Canyon Visitors Center and Mather Point overlook. The Visitors Center provides a great introductory movie on the Canyon, is where Park Rangers answer all visitors’ questions, and where visitors can find the official stamp for their National Parks book, if they choose to collect the stamps. Mather Point offers another magnificent view of the Grand Canyon. For us, Mather Point was our final overlook of this grand day. Afterwards, we boarded the bus and headed back to our hotel in Flagstaff with the beauty of the Grand Canyon embedded in our brains forever.

I purchased the official Visitors Center video that is shown every 30 minutes to visitors at the Visitors Center. It provides a good introduction to the Grand Canyon. I showed this on the bus during our drive back to Flagstaff. It served as an excellent summary of this memorable day.

Once back at Flagstaff, Walt did a Walmart run for everyone to replenish supplies again. Walmart is located less than a mile from our hotel and everyone appreciated the opportunity.

We were tired and exhilarated after our visit to the Grand Canyon National Park. I encourage everyone to experience the Grand Canyon in person. It is the most wondrous place on earth!!!

 

Day 19: Thursday, July 18, 2019

Another beautiful day with sunny skies and mild temperatures. After a very good breakfast, we left Flagstaff and began our trek Northeast to Moab, Utah. Today our travels took us on two lane highways with a 65 mile per hour speed limit. We started on Arizona Highway 89, turned onto U.S. Highway 160, and stopped at a Sinclair Rest Stop/Convenience Store in Tonalea, Arizona in Navajo Territory for a short break. The scenery changed constantly, from flat desert land for as far as the eye can see to beautiful mountains with all the colors of the spectrum.

I showed the DVD, “The Harvey Girls,” a fifty minute documentary with authentic footage from the time period. At Keyenta, Arizona, we turned left at the only traffic light we’ve seen and turned onto U.S. Highway 163. The road is another two lane highway, but without shoulders on either side. The scenery is magnificent as we travel through Monument Valley. Huge monoliths rise from the ground, 600 foot long striated mesas composed of red and white rock are rise in the distance. Pointed Pinnacles seem to grow out of the land and reach towards the sky. And the rest of the land is flat, barren desert as far as the eye can see.

We stopped at two of several Scenic Turnouts along the road as several of us hopped off the bus to take pictures. The scenery changed dramatically at every curve. We had a beautiful ride through Monument Valley as we proceeded to Blanding, Utah and our lunch stop at Subway.

U.S. Highway 191 takes us directly into Moab, Utah, Arches National Park, and I-70. As we got closer to Canyonlands, the scenery became more magnanimous. This was one of the most beautiful highways I’ve ever driven on. Next time, I would plan more stops for our tour guests to try and capture more of the sheer beauty of this region with their cameras.

We arrived at the Aarchway Inn in Moab, Utah in time to relax a few hours prior to going out for dinner tonight. The Aarchway Inn is located 5,000 feet in elevation surrounded on two sides by massive colorful rock structures that extend another 1,000 feet into the air. The views are breathtaking. Tour guests took the time to rest, relax in the pool, and/or stroll around outside to take pictures of the scenery. It was soon time to board the bus for our three minute ride to the Canyonlands by Night Cruise for dinner and the Sound & Light Show.

Tour guests were able to shop in the gift shop prior to the doors opening to the restaurant at 7:00 PM. Walt was able to park the bus in the parking lot and join us. After receiving the tickets, which had seat numbers, four seats in a row, corresponding to seats on the open air boat, tour guests chose groups of four and stayed together. Dinner was buffet style and very good. There was a very nice salad bar that we served ourselves. Further down the buffet line, servers placed your choice of beef, chicken, brisket, potatoes, corn, and vegetables onto your plate. For dessert was puddings and pies, all with whipped cream on top. We were invited to return to the buffet and eat as much as we wanted. The food was delicious.

The sun began to set on Canyonlands as we boarded the open-air pontoon and sat in our assigned seats. The temperatures ranged in the mid 80’s with a slight breeze. Humidity levels were high for this region of the country tonight, a whopping 26%. They are usually around 5%, and the locals were feeling the effects. To us, it was the most pleasant evening to be cruising outside.

Our guide and boat Captain were fabulous as we motored upstream on the Colorado River being told wonderful stories of the region. Using our imaginations, the guide pointed out Yogi Bear’s face embedded in the rocks, ET’s eyes and nose, a crocodile, the Wicked Witch of the West, and many more. It was really fun and entertaining. He told about the history of the region and the geological factors that created the rock structures. Soon, it was too dark to see the rocks. Above us, the International Space Station was seen moving across the clear nighttime sky. Venus was also shining bright. Soon, the stars appeared brighter and clearer until they completely dotted the sky. The Big Dipper was recognizable directly overhead. It was so beautiful.

At this time, the Captain shut off the pontoon’s engine and the light show began. Beams of light were cast on the magnificent rock structures as a taped narrative complete with relaxing music was sent through the powerful pontoon’s speakers. At times, you heard only total silence. This magnificent two hour multi-sensory experience seemed to drift by very quickly. The strong current from the Colorado River silently drifted us all the way back to our starting point. The entire evening was magnificent in every way.

 

Day 20: Friday, July 19, 2019

We were eager for our tour of Arches National Park on this beautiful sunny and dry summer morning. I had planned five stops as recommended by the Park Ranger back in May via telephone. Arches National Park is composed of steep canyon walls that rise above you as well as spectacular natural features that are not seen anywhere else. Our first stop was the La Sal Mountains Viewpoint that features a 360° view that included petrified mounds on the ground and giant monoliths and rock formations in the distance. A short distance away was Courthouse Towers Viewport featuring a huge wall of rock that gives the impression of judges, or even Zeus, sitting on a giant throne.

Arches National Park is known for three specialty formations that comprised our next three stops. Balanced Rock stood proud and tall attached to its rock pedestal by a thin connection. In 1975, its companion balanced rock had crumbled violently to the ground into many pieces. Remains of it are still seen today. Everyone took wonderful close up pictures of Balanced Rock. When will erosion send this large pointy rock to its fate?

The next stop was the Windows Area. A Window is a hole in a rock that is framed 360° by a more durable rock. These Windows are huge and one is even a double window. Since there was a longer walk to this attraction, we took many fine pictures of this natural wonder from a distance.

Delicate Arch is the signature feature of Arches National Park. Its shape resembles the St. Louis Arch but is naturally created by erosion of weaker rock. It stands alone, with nothing around it, and is only accessible by a mile long rugged hike on rocks uphill that would take three hours for the fittest climber to achieve. There are two viewpoints in the Park that you can see Delicate Arch from a mile away. We drove to that viewpoint. The Lower Viewpoint was an easy walk from the parking lot offering the viewer a distant look at the Arch. The Upper Viewpoint was a half mile moderately rugged climb on rock steps to the top of an area that offered a beautiful unobstructed view of Delicate Arch, still a mile away. Four of us ventured this climb which took 30 minutes round trip including time to take a few pictures of Delicate Arch. For those able, this hike was a satisfying alternative to actually climbing to Delicate Arch itself.

We drove back to the Arches National Park Visitors Center that included an informative museum that explained the geology of creating an Arch or Window. It also housed a wonderful gift shop, offered answers to all questions by knowledgeable Park Rangers, and provided bathroom facilities. Many tour guests purchased the National Park’s stamp book and have enjoyed stamping their book with the date of each visit to a National Park. Some purchased the yearly stamp sheet that includes one stamp for each region of the United States per year. The Program began in 1986 and Arches National Park has been represented on one of the sheets, for sale at the gift shop.

We departed Arches National Park and began our drive East on I-70. I showed a short video on Arches National Park that Walt purchased for us. Following this, I put on the first of my trilogy of movies I brought telling a story about people inducted into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame. The tour guests enjoyed “The Buddy Holly Story” today very much, despite its ultimate tragic ending on February 3, 1959.

We eventually arrived at our lunch stop, the Village Inn, in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. The Village Inn was all set up for us and we were greeted nicely upon entering. Nancy, one of our tour guests, met her brother here. Nancy hadn’t seen him in three years and was so excited he was able to drive from his home twenty miles away to meet her. The food was delicious and everyone enjoyed their lunch. The Village Inn is a chain of restaurants and have other locations nearer to Arches National Park.

Traffic was heavy as we entered I-70 at Glenwood Springs. We were bumper to bumper for about 30 minutes before traffic eased. I played John Denver music as we drove through the extremely scenic Rocky Mountains. The Colorado River was meandering to our left and right. People were seen rafting in the rapids of the River. Majestic mountains with a rainbow of color rose above us at every direction. The ground was a lush green compared to the yellow barren desert of an hour ago.

After a short rest stop, I decided to play a few songs. When “YMCA” was sent through the bus speakers, everyone started to sing and move their arms. This led to more “party songs.” I followed the “party songs” with music sung by artists inducted into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame. The music continued until we reached the Drury Inn in Denver, our stop for the night.

With all the traffic and the extra time we took in Arches National Park, we arrived at the Drury Inn a little after 7:00 PM. The Drury Inn closes their Kickback at 7:00 PM, but the staff was kind enough to keep it open and the food hot until we arrived and had the opportunity to eat. When we arrived, I requested that everyone go directly to the Kickback which is where I handed the tour guests their room key for the night.

Moab, Arches National Park, and driving through the Rocky Mountains were beautiful highlights of yet another magnificent day.

 

Day 21: Saturday, July 20, 2019

Last night, Lil, one of our tour guests, met her two daughters, son, and granddaughter who all converged on Denver specifically for a family reunion. Lil and her family went out for an Italian dinner together before going to her daughter’s home in Denver for additional quality time. We have had many tour guests meet up with family and friends who have relocated to different parts of the United States. It adds to the mystique of traveling Cross Country by bus.

Our timing today was phenomenal. We left Denver earlier than expected and drove past our expected lunch stop since it was only 11:15 AM (Central Time) and we had recently eaten a big breakfast. I had not made definitive reservations for lunch with a restaurant today, but I did call the Travel Stop to inform them of our decision to have lunch elsewhere. So, I looked up restaurants an hour or so later and found many at Exit 53 off of I-70 in Colby, Kansas.

Traffic was light as Walt cruised down I-70 into Kansas. I began the morning trip with three songs by Bobby Vinton, two of which were polkas. The music got everyone’s blood flowing. I played the 2019 Academy Award winning movie, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the story of Freddy Mercury and Queen. The tour guests enjoyed the movie very much. This was the second in my trilogy of movies about Rock N’ Roll Hall of Famers.

Following a short rest stop at a Conover Gas and Store, I read off the list of restaurants at Exit 53 in Colby for the tour guests to choose from. To my surprise, the unanimous decision was Burger King. Burger King handled our 18 people in no time. That’s what they do. It’s called fast-food for a reason. We were all happy following lunch.

We continued our drive into Hays, Kansas and our Comfort Inn. I continued to play music and took many requests. We arrived at our hotel about two hours earlier than originally expected. Despite our early arrival, they made sure our rooms were ready for us and luggage handlers would be available.

We were now on our own to enjoy this area of Hays, Kansas. There were quite a few good restaurants nearby to choose from. Some shopped at Walmart across the street. Others took a nap in their room or took a swim in the pool or whirlpool. It turned out to be an extremely relaxing and enjoyable day for everyone.

 

Day 22: Sunday, July 21, 2019

Thick clouds covered the Great Plains of Kansas as we departed for Kansas City, Missouri. I began our ride with Paul McCartney singing, “Goin’ to Kansas City, Kansas City Here I Come…” I then reviewed our itinerary for today. We’re shopping and eating lunch at the City Market in Kansas City followed by a tour of the Arabia Steamboat Museum. I played “La Bamba” and “Donna” by Ritchie Valens as an introduction to showing the DVD, “La Bamba,” the third of my trilogy of movies depicting Rock N’ Roll Hall of Famers. It’s a great movie showing the short and promising music career Ritchie Valens gave to the world before his life was cut short at age 17 in the same plane crash as Buddy Holly.

We stopped at a Loves Travel Center for a short rest stop before continuing into Kansas City. Light rain was falling. Thick elongated black clouds hovered to the left of our bus. However, as we approached Kansas City, the clouds lifted a bit and the rain stopped. It was 80° in Kansas City with 60% humidity; quite comfortable. Yesterday, the heat index was a miserable 115° in Kansas City. We continue to be blessed with perfect weather throughout this entire trip.

The City Market in Kansas City is a bustling place with shops and food places lining the perimeter of this large square. People selling their wares at tables in the flea market section sat in the center of the square. Fresh fruits and vegetables were sold on carts underneath canopies also on the perimeter of the square. Foods from all over the world were represented; Mediterranean, Vietnam, New Orleans, China, and India to name a few. I was told that the weather deterred many vendors and shoppers today. Nevertheless, many people were out eating, shopping, and just having a good time.

The entrance to the Arabia Steamboat Museum sat on one side of the City Market and our guided tour began 2:30. The Steamboat Arabia was a three year old Steamboat filled with an estimated 220 tons of cargo that was to be sold to frontier towns along the Missouri River. In 1856, it hit a snag (large piece of a tree trunk) in the river that lodged itself in the hull of Arabia. The boat began filling with water and going down. All 130 people onboard fortunately survived but the Steamboat sunk 45 feet through quicksand material with all its cargo. Being trapped in a dark, oxygen free environment for all the years, all the cargo was preserved immaculately.

The story of its discovery in 1988 is a great one and too lengthy to write about here. The Hawley Family and two others excavated everything within four months and have been tediously cleaning each piece to make it truly presentable for their Museum. They opened the Museum in 1991 and will continue to clean more pieces in their lab for several years to come until everything is displayed. Matt Hawley, whose dad was one of the excavators, spoke to us in person and welcomed us to the Museum. He was only four years old in 1988. Matt hinted that another Steamboat had been found and excavation might begin in two years. Over two hundred Steamboats have sunk in the mighty Missouri River.

The Museum houses the largest number of pre 1860 artifacts in the world. Examples of Museum pieces include fine china, nails, boots, tools, clothing, the snag that sunk the Arabia, and pickles. The preserved hull of the Arabia sits in the center of a circular room. A mule died when the Arabia sank and its bones are on display. They gave the mule a name when encasing the mule; Lawrence. The Arabia Steamboat Museum tells a fascinating story that was enjoyed by everyone.

We arrived at our next Drury Inn and everyone took advantage of the lighter Kickback for dinner since we had a larger lunch at the City Market. We are realizing that we only have only a few days remaining on this magnificent trip. Many are feeling the sadness but still look forward to the attractions that remain.

 

Day 23: Monday, July 22, 2019

Upon waking up this morning, turning on the local news, and drinking my one cup of coffee for the day, I learned that today was the last day the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library was going to be open. And furthermore, there was going to be no charge for admission. Beginning tomorrow, the Library would be closed for at least 14 months for renovations.

I studied our timing for the day, and if we could combine a rest stop with a quick food stop instead of stopping for lunch, we’d be able to spend an hour at the Truman Presidential Library. I posed this idea to Walt and the tour guests at breakfast and everyone overwhelmingly agreed to squeeze in the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library into our itinerary.

Arriving at the Bingham Waggoner Estate early, the President of the Bingham Waggoner Society greeted us and opened their gift shop for us to peruse. Soon, the store employee and other guide arrived. So we were now able to pay for our purchases and begin our tour.

Constructed in 1852, the Lewis Family built this estate initially as a six room house. The property actually borders the Santa Fe Trail used in the 19th century and had a lot of wagon traffic at one time. Independence was the starting point for the great Wagon trains to California in the 1840’s. Artist and politician George Caleb Bingham bought the house for $5,000 in 1862 and used it as his art studio. He sold the house six years later, moved to Kansas City, and entered politics. The Waggoners’ arrived in Independence as millers, opened up a flour plant next door, and began producing the best breads in the country. As their profits increased, they bought the original Lewis Estate for $8,000. As a family of five children, they expanded the house to 26 rooms and owned it for 97 years before Harry Waggoner passed away in 1976. The house was sold to the Historical Society in 1978 and preserved for public viewing. It still contains 90% of the original furniture from George Caleb Bingham’s pre Civil War Days. On a side note, Harry Waggoner sold his flour and bread business in 1970 to the Pillsbury Company.

We were led into the dining room featuring a magnificent mahogany table with ten leaves extending the length of the room. The entertainment room had a beautiful Steinway Piano that our guide, the President, played so expertly. He also played the church organ next to the Piano. Also in this really cool room were two Victrola record players, one electric and one you had to crank, that played 78 rpm records.

Upstairs was the bedrooms and sitting room for Mrs. Waggoner. The children also had their bedrooms. The top floor was where the paid servant quarters were located along with the toys that the Waggoner children played with when they were young. A bathroom with running water fed by a water system on the top floor was located on each level of the Estate. The kitchen had an old pot belly stove and a sink. Everyone really enjoyed their tour of the Bingham Waggoner Estate.

We drove one mile to the Harry S. Truman Memorial Library. Truman made Independence his home and was friends with the Waggoner’s. He attended many activities at the Waggoner Estate where rumor has it was the partying place for the wealthy. The tour guests had 75 minutes to go through the Truman Library, which was brilliantly organized in chronological order as to his major accomplishments as President. The Visitor walked through a series of rooms each with facts and photos on a particular event. One room highlighted Truman ordering the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki thus ending WWII. Another room emphasized his mistrust for Russia and steps he needed to take to prevent the spread of communism. Still another tells about our involvement in the Korean War. I didn’t realize how influential Truman’s foreign policy had been in shaping our future with other countries.

Also seen at the Harry Truman Presidential Library was the newspaper Truman held up in 1948 claiming that Dewey had won the presidency (that Truman actually won without getting the popular vote). His 1941 Chrysler Royal Club Coupe was on display in the lower level of the museum. And outside, underneath the American Flagpole were the graves of Bess Truman, Harry Truman, and their daughter. This was a wonderful unanticipated stop that everyone was thrilled to have had the opportunity to experience.

Back on the road, and being that it was already after 12:30 PM, we stopped for a quick bite of lunch at a Pilot Travel Center that housed a Subway, McDonalds, and convenience store. After a second short rest stop about an hour out of St. Louis, we arrived at our Drury Plaza Hotel with plenty of time to freshen up before going out for dinner at Rigazzi’s restaurant.

Rigazzi’s is located in the Italian section of St. Louis known as “the Hill.” It is where baseball greats Joe Garagiola and Yogi Berra grew up and played baseball. The area was not very modern. It was an old neighborhood with lots of construction across the street from the restaurant. Upon entering Rigazzi’s, we were seated in the banquet room. It was nice having the room to ourselves and relaxing with great conversation among good friends. After a salad, we tried their toasted raviolis which we learned were Rigazzi’s signature appetizer. Our main course of either fish, chicken, or steak came out next and was served with string beans, pasta, and risotto. The dinner was topped off with Spumoni.

After two wonderful attractions this morning and dinner this evening, we had a terrific day today. We are all looking forward to having lots of fun in St. Louis tomorrow.

 

Day 24: July 23, 2019

Today was another absolutely beautiful day with sunny skies, low humidity, and mild temperatures. I left the Drury Plaza at 7:45 AM to walk to the Gateway Arch which opened at 8:00 AM. I was able to pick up the tickets for the tram ride to the top of the Arch as well as our Riverfront Cruise later in the day. All but two tour guests met at 8:30 AM in front of the Lewis and Clark Exhibit and walked across the street for our tour of the Old Courthouse. The two chose to stay back at their room to rest for the longer walk this afternoon to the Riverfront Cruise.

We took pictures on the steps of the Old Courthouse before walking inside. While I spoke to the Park Ranger about our guided tour, the tour guests looked inside the gift shop. We first viewed the 18 minute film on the Old Courthouse and its role in the infamous Dred Scott Case of 1847. The St. Louis Judge at the Old Courthouse agreed to give Dred Scott his freedom, but his master appealed the verdict. The case eventually went all the way to the Supreme Court where it was declared in 1857 that Dred Scott was property and did not have the right to sue for his freedom. The decision hastened the start of the Civil War. Dred Scott was then sold for $1.00 to an abolitionist who took Dred Scott to Court and asked the judge to award him his freedom. Dred Scott was now a free man. This ironically took place here in the Old Courthouse. Unfortunately, Dred Scott died a year later in 1858.

Our Tour Guide was wonderful. She expanded on the information from the video. We went up a very steep set of stairs to the replicated courtroom and sat in chairs reserved for public viewing. The Old Courthouse was also involved in the Women’s Right to Vote Movement when in 1872, Virginia Minor sued in the Old Courthouse for her right to vote. She lost. But the trial got the attention of the Suffragettes like Elizabeth Candy Stanton and Susan B. Anthony who were instrumental in securing the 19th Amendment in 1920.

The Old Courthouse was almost torn down in 1930 when it was replaced by a new Court building in St. Louis. Fortunately, the National Park Service eventually took over the Old Courthouse in 1935 along with riverfront property to build a monument to honor St. Louis’ role as the Gateway to the West. A contest was held to submit a design for the monument. However, the winner of the contest was not selected for another 25 years until 1960 due to two wars and a changing America. Everyone was enlightened by this wonderful information on the contributions the Old Courthouse played in the formation of our country.

We walked across the street to Gateway Arch National Park and went through strict security and metal detectors. We had an hour before we were scheduled to take the tram up to the top of the Arch. Many spent their time visiting the magnificent new Museum of the West that began with the settling of St. Louis in 1764. While others shopped in the Arch Gift Shop and some relaxed with a cup of coffee.

The hour flew by as we took our place in line. The tram cars are small with only a four foot height. Five people bent over to fit into each car. The doors closed and up we went. Four minutes later, we ducked out of the tram and walked to the top center of the Arch. Windows on the west side provided magnificent views of St. Louis while windows on the other side showed the Mississippi River and East. You could see for miles in both directions on this clear day. We took many pictures. The tram ride down was only 3 minutes in length and we were soon on the bottom again with over two hours free time ahead of us for lunch, shopping, walking, or relaxing back at our hotel.

We met at 2:15 PM at the Lewis and Clark Exhibit at the Drury Plaza to walk to the Riverfront Cruise on the Mississippi River. It was very difficult for some of our walking challenged tour guests to walk the long walkway around the Gateway Arch and then down a long ramp to the River. The Cruise was very informative and relaxing. The 80° temperature, low humidity, and pleasant breezes off the water provided the perfect conditions for ultimate comfort. We began by cruising north from the Arch (towards the Mississippi River’s source in Minneapolis, some 700 miles away). Then, we turned around and started heading south (towards the mouth of the Mississippi River in New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico some 1,200 miles away). Finally, we turned north again to the dock in front of the Gateway Arch. The cruise lasted a wonderful 45 minutes in length and we passed the Gateway Arch three times. We all could have stayed on for much longer.

We slowly walked up the ramp from the Mississippi River level to the Gateway Arch level, assisting those in need. Eventually we all made it back without incident to the Drury Inn and began making dinner plans. Four tour guests chose to take a taxi to the famous Sweetie Pie’s that was featured on television. They had a marvelous dinner experience and a great time. Most grabbed a bite to eat in the free Kickback. Some walked to a local restaurant.

Today was a perfect day in St. Louis.

 

Day 25: Wednesday, July 24, 2019

We left St. Louis at 7:30 AM and continued our trek East on I-70. Our destination today was Indianapolis, Indiana and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I provided some history on the Motor Speedway that first opened in 1911, took six years off during the two World Wars, and ran its 103rd race this year. The Motor Speedway seats 250,000 people around the 2.5 mile track and on race day, and sells another 50,000 tickets for people to stand in the infield. That gives the Indy 500, that falls most years on Memorial Day weekend, the largest attendance of any sporting event in the world.

I played the song that is sung before every Indy 500 race, “Back Home Again in Indiana.” Then, I showed the DVD “Winning” starring Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, and Robert Wagner. It’s a 1969 movie based on a true story of an Indy 500 winner. It is filled with great auto racing scenes. The tour guests enjoyed the movie. In fact, a poster advertising the movie is on display in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.

We crossed the border from Illinois into Indiana as our electronics jumped ahead one hour. We were back on Eastern Time for the first time since Day 3. We pulled into Downtown Indianapolis at 12:45 PM for lunch.

Downtown Indianapolis is a modern restaurant and mall center with many nice places to eat in a small area. The Circle Center Mall is built above the restaurants on the second level and extends at least two blocks. You walk on enclosed bridges above the city streets within the Mall. Your typical mall stores are located on the second and third levels with a food court on the second level. Restaurants such as Champps, Panera Bread, Steak and Shake, and many others sit on street level. Everyone found a good place to eat lunch and enjoyed walking in this unique shopping mall in Downtown Indianapolis.

The Starr Bus entered the Indianapolis Motor Speedway through Gate 2, the same gate the race cars enter. Walt let us off at the Museum entrance. After purchasing the tickets, we all were ushered into a shuttle bus that would drive us around the beautiful 2.5 mile asphalt track. The guide provided information on the Indy 500 along with taped sounds giving one the impression we were part of a race. We soon stopped at the finish line, made from three feet of original bricks that used to make up the Indy 500 track. It is customary for winners of the Indy 500 to “Kiss the Bricks” following their victory. They must also drink a bottle of milk. We did not get to drink milk, but we did have the opportunity to kiss the bricks. Many interesting pictures were taken when many of us ventured down on our hands and knees to kiss a brick. The funny part was watching everyone get back up. We all thoroughly enjoyed this tour.

Back at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, we saw the original winning race car from 1911 along with winning race cars from recent races. This was my first experience seeing these magnificent vehicles up close. They are built to travel at speeds upward of 210 mph. The Museum allows the visitor to actually sit in a race car and have their picture taken. After maneuvering myself into this extremely tight seat and having a few fun pictures taken, I literally couldn’t maneuver myself out. It took me five tries to finally figure out how to get out of the car. Many tour guests took advantage of getting their picture taken while sitting in a race car.

The Museum also featured a nine minute video on the history of the Indy 500 as well as two large gift shops. Both racing fans and non-racing fans thoroughly enjoyed the tour and museum of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

As our trip is winding down, the attractions each day continue to be fascinating. We look forward to the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame tomorrow.

 

Day 26: Thursday, July 25, 2019

On the bus this morning, I played mostly music videos from artists inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. The video is titled “The 25th Anniversary: Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame Concerts” and took place at Madison Square Garden on October 29th and 30th, 2009. Jerry Lee Lewis started it off singing “Great Balls of Fire.” Then we saw performances from Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Aretha Franklin, and many others. I also took time to interject facts about the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame and played songs from the newest 2019 inductees, the Zombies.

Since we are not formally stopping at a lunch establishment today, I suggested that tour guests plan their meal at rest stops. Our first rest stop was a Pilot Travel Plaza that featured a Subway. Tour guests could purchase lunch here if they wished. If not, they had two more opportunities to purchase lunch; either at our next Travel Plaza in two hours or upon arrival to the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Of course, tonight was our Farewell Dinner so everyone was encouraged to eat lightly throughout the day. Our next Rest Stop was a Loves Travel Center featuring a Taco Johns, Subway, and a Wendy’s next door. We stopped for 45 minutes so everyone could eat a leisurely light lunch. The amount of food was perfect for today’s itinerary. We were back on the bus and arrived in Cleveland and the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame at 1:30 PM.

The Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame is a visual masterpiece of a structure. It is shaped like a pyramid, silvery in appearance, and is totally encased in glass. The glistening sun on the windows adds a reflective punch of beauty at first glance. We were greeted at the bus by a group sales agent of the Hall of Fame upon arrival and had a wrist band placed around our wrist for entrance. Our lovely greeter encouraged us to begin our self-guided tour in the lower level of the Museum and work our way upwards to the third floor.

There was so much to see on the lower level that it took the majority of our day, but everything we experienced was worth it. TV monitors placed in showcases provided auditory and visual highlights of the featured artists. For example, you were able to see Chuck Berry’s jacket and then watch him perform while wearing that same jacket. It was so well done. There was so much to imagine when you saw John Lennon’s shirt he wore for his last American concert. Elvis’s gold, glittering costume was encased near the giant screen that showed Elvis performing. The Rolling Stones were projected on a giant wall with Mick Jagger dancing all over the stage to “Brown Sugar.” It was like a visual and auditory explosion of the senses at every turn.

Dick Clark’s American Bandstand was featured in a thirty minute looped video that brought you all the way back to yesteryear. The impact Dick Clark has made to the music industry was apparent in this nostalgic film. He gave so many of our greatest musical performers their first exposure to the American public. The video, shown in a theater with soft, comfortable seating, is a marvelous tribute to a great man who pioneered the music scene in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s.

No one was able to see the whole museum in our 2.5 hour timeframe. However, we were satisfied with what we did see. The artifacts, the visuals, and the music brought us back to our own personal childhoods, jogging both happy and sad memories simultaneously. The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame was the most perfect way to end this magnificent Cross Country Trip – this trip of a lifetime.

Walt had dropped off our luggage at the Drury Plaza in Cleveland and picked up our keys while we were in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Upon arrival to the Drury Plaza, eight volunteers from the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce greeted us with signs, smiles, and friendly waves. One even boarded our bus and gave a short welcoming speech promoting the greatness of the city she was most proud of. They also handed each of us a plastic bag with momentous of Cleveland. It was a wonderful moment.

The manager of the Drury Plaza also stepped onto our bus and spoke about his most unusual hotel. The Drury Plaza is a converted 1931 historic building once used as the administration and Board of Education facility for the Cleveland Public Schools. It was sold to the Drury Hotel Chain in 2013 and opened as the Drury Plaza Cleveland in 2016. Breakfast is served every day in the Teachers Lounge. The hallways have marble flooring and 15 to 20 foot high arched ceilings. Echoes from footsteps and people talking reverberate everywhere. It definitely gives you that old school feeling. We knew immediately that we all had to behave or else.

The rooms were equally spacious, complete with all the usual Drury amenities. We had an hour and a half to freshen up and prepare ourselves for our Farewell Dinner at the Hofbrauhaus ten minutes away.

The Hofbrauhaus is decorated both outside and inside with German Architecture and furnishings. The wooden tables and chairs are arranged in long rows seating 8 people at each table comfortably. The two piece band, featuring an accordion and saxophone, played tunes with the German polka beat adding musical atmosphere to this fun experience. In my boldness, I asked the manager to provide a ten minute break to the band so I could give out my rewards. He was kind enough to grant my request, despite the three hundred other patrons who were dining in the restaurant and enjoying the music.

Both Walt and I gave a short speech of appreciation to all the tour guests. I handed out an individual Cross Country Award to each tour guest highlighting their beautiful contributions throughout our trip. I handed out my “Cross Country Trip at a Glance,” four typed pages reviewing our trip in many different ways. I was barely able to complete the ceremony with a farewell poem before the band began to play again.

We were served a wonderful salad topped with a soft Bavarian Pretzel, similar to the New York style soft pretzels we’re used to. This was followed by our main course. Each tour guest chose from five unique German style dinners. Each menu item was cooked to perfection and tasted delicious. Whereas in the past Cross Country Trips our Farewell Dinner was a more formal affair, this was very informal, allowing us to get up and intermingle with each other while moving our bodies to the rhythm of the music. One tour guest summed up our Cross Country dinners by saying, “This was the second best dinner on the trip, slightly behind our dinner at the Big Texan Steak Ranch.”

Then dessert arrived. We chose from German Chocolate Cake, Black Forest Cake, Apple Strudel, ice cream, and others. The desserts were enormous and delicious, but we all couldn’t believe we ate the whole thing!!!  Our Farewell Dinner was definitely the icing on the cake, a great conclusion to a magnificent 27 day trip across our beautiful country.

 

Day 27: Friday, July 26, 2019

The final day of any trip is inevitable, but being together for 26 consecutive days and forming great friendships makes separation more difficult. We departed from Cleveland a little before 8:00 AM. Walt and I had sorted the luggage by tour guest drop off points. Breakfast, as usual for a Drury Inn, was nourishing and delicious. As we were pulling away, Simon and Garfunkel began to sing, “Homeward Bound.”

While traveling, we all discussed the Statistics at a Glance handout from last night. We wrote in the newest attraction we managed to squeeze into our itinerary on Day 23; the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library. Walt predicted the final total miles we traveled from Hamilton, NJ to Hamilton, NJ was 6,921 miles. Everyone wrote that into their Statistics. Many shared their opinions about the attractions we accomplished. We basically reviewed the entire trip through informal conversation.

We stopped at the first rest area on the Pennsylvania Turnpike for a short break and before departing, I passed out the tour survey sheets to each traveler. The checklist is four pages long and has space for additional comments. Everyone took their time writing their opinions about different aspects of this wonderful trip.

Rather than stopping at a restaurant for lunch, we voted to stop at the Oakmont Rest Area at Exit 148 of the Pennsylvania Turnpike that includes a Sbarros, Steak & Shake, and Starbucks. Despite the lines being long for each establishment, we were all ready to depart in less than an hour.

We continued rolling down the highway. I then began my review of the trip through music, playing songs that I had played upon entering each state, city, and section of the country. Music is an extremely powerful medium that forces connections in people’s brains. Upon hearing a song, many will immediately think of a time gone by or a specific experience in their lives. I’m hoping the great songs played throughout this trip will conjure up only the finest memories for our Cross Country travelers.

After another brief rest stop, the ride home continued. Pennsylvania can be such a long state. Suddenly we hit traffic at the Northeast Extension and were in bumper to bumper traffic for 30 minutes. However, we eventually arrived in Bensalem and was warmly greeted with a big “Welcome Home” by Sandy Borowsky, the 3rd generation owner of Starr and leader of the Tour Division. Sandy then handed out a warm and tasty Philadelphia pretzel to each of us as a symbol of being home in the Philly area for the first time in 27 days.

The goodbye hugs and kisses began as ten tour guests departed at this hub. Everyone was very careful to take all of their belongings which they purposely placed in overhead compartments and empty seats throughout the bus. Once all the luggage was sorted in correct vehicles and all belongings were off the bus, we all said our final goodbyes and left Bensalem to drop off the remaining tour guests.

There really is no place like home. We all knew that leaving each other was eventually going to happen. But for these glorious 27 days, we became a family of people who had come together for one purpose: to live life to the fullest and enjoy the many treasures our beautiful country has to offer. I can honestly say, “Mission Accomplished!!!”

 

 

 

Other Comments

Walt Deminski is a magnificent Driver. Be it maneuvering down narrow, winding canyons to successfully making difficult turns in crowded parking lots of hotels, Walt does it all with caution and brilliance. He is extremely mindful of all the needs of the tour guests and his demeanor defines the term professional. He has taken care of the bus like it’s his own child. His work ethic is second to none. The bus is kept spotless both inside and out. He places small garbage bags at each seat for tour guests’ convenience. He fills the gas tank whenever he sees a Sam’s Club or Costco to save money. Walt is fabulous to work with and a true asset to the Starr family.