Cross Country Adventure by Bus 2023 – Eastbound - Starr Tours & Charters

Presenting the second half of our 2023 Cross Country Adventure recap by Starr Tour Director Gene Gray! (Click here to read about their Westbound journey.)

Day 15: Sunday, September 17, 2023

We had no Los Angeles traffic this Sunday morning as we cruised towards Barstow, California. On the bus, I played the songs “Viva Las Vegas” by Elvis and “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers. I then discussed my 10-page packet on everything Las Vegas and answered all questions. Aside from the packet, I gave advice on how to navigate the New York New York Hotel and find the overpasses to cross Las Vegas Boulevard. It is illegal to cross Las Vegas Boulevard by foot. Overpasses have been built to handle all street crossings. After everyone had exhausted their questions, we were ready to conquer Las Vegas.  

On our way, we stopped at Walmart for a 45-minute rest stop. I recommended that everyone purchase food for Las Vegas that needs no refrigeration since there are no refrigerators or microwaves in the rooms. Some bought an extra duffel bag to store more of their purchases. Everyone enjoyed this stop. 

I showed the 50-minute History Channel Documentary on Las Vegas. Even though the video was made in 1994, the film explained the history of Las Vegas from the first Spaniards in the 1500’s to the first hotel, The Flamingo, in 1946. It also recognized the building of the Boulder Dam (later changed to the Hoover Dam by President Truman) as a turning point in the growth of Las Vegas in the 1930’s and for powering Las Vegas with lights. Most watched with interest.  

We arrived at our lunch stop in the Mohave Desert in Baker, California. The indoor, air-conditioned food court had seven different restaurants for the tour guests to choose from including KFC, Subway, and Fatburger. Everyone enjoyed lunch and we were on our way again. 

We passed Seven Magic Mountains along I-15 ten miles out of Las Vegas. Seven pillars of stone were painted with bright iridescent paints that clash with the desert terrain. It’s art. Suddenly, the skyline of Las Vegas loomed in the distance, and we arrived at the New York New York Hotel & Casino, our home for the next 2 nights.  

I handed out the room keys, wished everyone luck, encouraged them to contact me anytime a need arose, and reminded them to place their luggage inside their door on Tuesday at 6:30 AM. Everyone disembarked with excitement and went their own way. 

Day 16: Monday, September 18, 2023

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas!!! 

Day 17: Tuesday, September 19, 2023

As told to me, these were the most popular things the tour guests did in Las Vegas; toured the Hoover Dam, saw a show, took the Deuce to iconic Fremont Street, and walked through many Hotels on the Strip. Everyone enjoyed their visit to Vegas. 

As we traveled east, we drove past the Lake Meade Recreation Area where the Hoover Dam is located. In preparation for our day at Grand Canyon National Park tomorrow, I showed two short videos; “Grand Canyon: The Hidden Secrets” which is presented in IMAX in a theater outside of the Canyon and “Grand Canyon: A Journey of Wonder”, which is the official Grand Canyon National Park’s Visitors Center movie. The tour guests enjoyed both films which were good introductions to tomorrow’s tour.  

We stopped at the Kingman Service Center, a TA Travel stop on Route 66 in Kingman, AZ. The store sold many unique Route 66 items as well as snacks.  

We arrived at our lunch stop, the Roadkill Cafe and found our tables set with water, a napkin, and silverware. Since we had called in our preorders, before everyone had the chance to enter the building and find a seat, Roadkill’s fabulous staff was calling out numbers and serving lunch. Within eight minutes, all lunches had been served! The food was certainly unique. Many tried Elk Burgers and Bison Burgers for the first time. Managers Aaron and Janet along with their kitchen staff did an amazing job. Many shopped in the Route 66 store at the Roadkill Cafe before we drove a half mile East on Route 66 to Angel & Vilma’s Original Route 66 Gift Shop.  

Angel Delgadillo is credited for saving Route 66 in Seligman. He owns the Gift Shop and an ice cream store next door. The Gift Shop had a vast assortment of everything Route 66. Many bought gifts for family and friends as well as for themselves. Angel was also the town’s barber, and his barber shop remains inside the building as a photo op. Angel Delgadillo is currently 96 years old, is in good health, and will be honored with a Presidential Award in Washington DC in November for his work in preserving Route 66. 

We were only an hour away from Flagstaff, Arizona and our Drury Inn Hotel for the night. Flagstaff, as well as Williams, are considered the gateways to the Grand Canyon.  

It was midafternoon and everyone was now on their own and had plenty of time to walk, relax, and get ready for the Kickback. Many found Drury’s two washers and three dryers and did their laundry. Today was the perfect calming day after the hustle and bustle of Las Vegas. Tomorrow, we look forward to visiting one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon. 

Day 18: Wednesday, September 20, 2023

We departed the Drury Inn after a fine breakfast and traveled to Grand Canyon National Park. The weather was cool and partially overcast. We traveled through Navajo Country which can be described as dry, barren land dotted with weathered prefabricated homes with a rusty pick-up truck to the side. The Navajo Nation stays on Mountain Time so our devices often jumped ahead one hour and then back again when we returned into Arizona Territory. We entered through the Eastern Entrance of the Southern Rim of the Grand Canyon and turned into the Desert View Overlook for our first views of the Canyon.  

The Desert View Overlook is an ideal introduction to the Grand Canyon. The initial view is breathtaking, almost like a sudden gut punch, a genuine WOW moment. One looks upon an endless expanse of ageless color for as far as the eye can see. A glimpse of the Colorado River meandering through the Lower Canyon a mile downward is visible to the naked eye. The man-made Watchtower, created by Mary Colter in 1904, adds additional mystique to the area and can be climbed up for more views. We were in awe at the beauty and vastness of the Grand Canyon.  

Our next stop was Lipan Point, a great overlook to view the geological layers of rock reflecting the age of the Grand Canyon. The youngest layer is the Kaibab Formation. This is the top layer that we walk and drive upon and dates back 275 million years. The oldest layer on the bottom is the black Grand Canyon Schist and is over 1 billion years old. The tour guests had a lot of fun observing the layers and climbing down the cliffs for some unusual pictures.  

Moran Point was our next stop. Thomas Moran is a famous landscape artist and spent every winter painting the Grand Canyon from 1899 to 1920. His work hangs in many western museums and art museums across the country. The Bright Angel Lodge at the Grand Canyon also displays one of his works. The vastness and ever-changing shadows and colors make Moran Point one of the most beautiful views in the Park. The views from the overlook play with one’s senses creating disbelief that the Grand Canyon is real and not a painting. Pictures cannot do the Grand Canyon justice. And its age is beyond human understanding.

Grand Canyon National Park

Our next stop was at the Grand Canyon Village and the Bright Angel Lodge. This was also our lunch stop. Following lunch at a choice of three restaurants, many tour guests hiked a short way down the Bright Angel Trail knowing that a fifteen-minute hike down would take thirty minutes to hike up. Many walked along the Canyon Rim and took breathtaking photos. Others shopped in the Bright Angel Lodge’s Grand Canyon Gift Shop.

Following this two-hour lunch stop at Grand Canyon Village, we drove to the General Store for a thirty-minute shopping experience and then onto the Visitors Center Complex. The Complex featured a short walk to Mather Point with magnificent views of the Grand Canyon.

Mather Point – Grand Canyon National Park

We departed the Grand Canyon via its Southern Entrance and arrived back at the Drury Inn for the start of the Kickback. Everyone was inspired by this beautiful day. Our brains were exhausted from seeing endless beauty and trying to fathom endless geological time all day. Playing at elevations of 70,00 feet added to our tiredness. A good rest was in order.  

Day 19: Thursday, September 21, 2023

We had a fine Drury Inn breakfast. Our lunches were delivered from the Aspen Deli and I handed out the bags to each guest in the hotel lobby before departure. 

I showed the video, “Arches National Park”, the same video that’s shown in the Visitors Center at Arches. It was a good introduction to Arches National Park that we’ll be experiencing tomorrow morning. We continued riding on Arizona two-lane roads with 65 mph speed limits until we reached our rest stop, the Shinto Marketplace, an oasis in the desert.  

The Shinto Marketplace is owned and operated by Navajo who welcomed us and were grateful for our business.  

We continued on Arizona US-160 towards our lunch stop. I showed the documentary, “The Harvey Girls”, the story of Fred Harvey and the women he hired in the 1930’s to work in his restaurants. Fred Harvey revolutionized food services at train stops in cities throughout the Western United States and hired single women to serve the predominantly male customers. Harvey quoted the women serve to lower the testosterone and keep a sense of law and order simply by their presence. The tour guests enjoyed this movie with its primary source interviews from actual Harvey Girls and original photographs and films from the time period.  

We crossed the border into southeastern Utah, twenty minutes away from the famed Four Corners where Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado come to a point (unfortunately time wouldn’t permit us to stop). We arrived at the Sand Island Recreation Area at the San Juan River outside of Bluff, Utah. The sky was solid blue. The temperature was a perfect 72°. Everyone found their perfect spot along the San Juan River to eat their delicious lunch from the Aspen Deli. Some took a small hike after lunch. It was a scenic lunch spot on the river in a spectacular environment. 

We continued to ride through spectacular landscapes of weathered sedimentary rock of many brilliant colors, sizes, and shapes. We passed rocks with windows, pillars, and domes. Utah was showing off its absolute beauty. We soon arrived at the Aarchway Inn in Moab, Utah.  

We checked in and had a few minutes before departing for our evening activity. 

Canyonlands by Night served a buffet dinner to 140 people within an hour. They provided a salad bar and a hot buffet bar with their staff, mostly family, portioning out the food. The food in the hot bar consisted of corn, beans, pulled pork, roast beef, and chicken. The food was very good, and everyone left quite satisfied.  

The Canyonlands by Night boat cruise began just before sunset and motored upstream in the Colorado River for about forty minutes. Tasha, the tour guide, spoke about the history of Moab, the magnificent rock formations, and pointed out quirks in the rock that could look like an animal or well-known character. Darkness fell and the beautiful light show began; a prepared story with music and narration synchronized with specific sections of rock being engulfed in light. A truck carrying 40,000 watts of light orchestrated the light show. The music, narration, and light were shut down revealing a dark sky filled with stars twinkling brightly. The sky was pitch black. It was a sight that can only exist with the complete absence of light on the ground. Tour guests became emotional and awestruck with the magnificence of our endless Universe.

Canyonland by Night Dinner Cruise

Following the cruise, the realization of our 6:45 AM departure and the need to sleep fast sobered us. We will experience Arches National Park at dawn.

Day 20: Friday, September 22, 2023

It was a seven-minute drive into Arches National Park. First, we stopped at the Courthouse Towers Viewpoint to witness the sunrise that was expected at 7:15 AM. The skies were clear on this beautiful Utah morning. The surrounding colorful rock structures soon began shining brighter as the sun slowly rose from the horizon. It was an enlightening experience to behold. The contrast between the stars last night and the sunrise this morning filled up our senses with unimaginable tranquility. Gorgeous pictures were taken.

Arches National Park, Utah

We next drove to Balanced Rock, one of the three major features in Arches. One large boulder precariously sits upon a thicker layer of rock and points upward. Our third stop was the Windows Section. It was here that we spent the longest time so the tour guests could hike to the Double Window or the North Window. Some guests hiked to both. A window is formed when the center of the rock is eroded away, leaving a big hole in it. This phenomenon mainly occurs in Utah.

Balanced Rock – Arches National Park, Utah

Our final stop before the Visitors Center was the Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint. Delicate Arch is the main feature of Arches. This Viewpoint allows the visitors to view Delicate Arch from a mile away rather than take the uphill climb to view it at closer range. Our weather remained absolutely perfect with deep blue, cloudless skies and temperatures in the low 70’s.

Double Arch – Arches National Park, Utah

The Visitors Center featured a theater, Gift Shop, the National Parks Store, and restrooms. This was our final stop in Arches National Park. Many bought mementos of Arches while others stamped their National Park Passport Book. We were soon back on the bus to head East towards Colorado.  

The terrain constantly changes from desert yellows, cacti, and plenty of desert brush to lush trees and mountains as we crossed the border into Colorado on I-70. I kept the bus quiet so guests might rest or sleep. At 12:30 PM, we pulled into the Mesa Mall in Grand Junction for lunch. We chose from a variety of Food Court kiosks to purchase lunch. We were back on the road quickly. 

I played the movie, “La Bamba”, the Ritchie Valens Story. Ritchie Valens rose to stardom in 1958 at the age of 17. He had a great musical career ahead of him when he died in a plane crash on February 3, 1959. Ritchie Valens was inducted posthumously into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2001. Everyone was riveted by the movie. 

The movie ended and we were traveling through the magnificent stretch of I-70 in the Rocky Mountains. Spectacular views surrounded us at every turn as we began climbing in elevation. John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” reverberated throughout the bus along with six more John Denver’s classics. We all experienced a total multi-sensory experience between the beautiful scenery and music. We climbed to an elevation of 11,500 feet before descending slowly. Fifty-four miles from Denver, we drove through the Johnson Tunnel that not only sits at 10,400 feet above sea level but has the Continental Divide crossing its center point. We were back in the part of our country where all running water flowed East to the Atlantic Ocean. 

We were making excellent time after a short rest stop heading for our Drury Hotel in Stapleton, a suburb of Denver. Suddenly, traffic just stopped 10 miles away due to lane closures. My GPS registered an hour delay but quickly offered an alternate route that eventually put us back on I-70 beyond the blockage. We only lost ten minutes in time and made it to the Drury Inn with twenty minutes to spare before the close of the Kickback. Everyone was tired and completely satisfied after another picture-perfect day of travel. 

Day 21: Saturday, September 23, 2023

While the East Coast was being slammed by strong winds and rain, it was another picture-perfect day as we departed Denver. We honored four tour guests on board with musical numbers since September 23 was a special day for each. We continued north eventually crossing the border into Wyoming. I played a few Western Songs to mark the occasion.  

We stopped at our unique rest stop, Little America, located in the state capital, Cheyenne. It offered us a restroom and shopping for things Wyoming. The highlight for many was riding the big green dinosaur outside the store. Many made a purchase at Little America and came away with some fun photos.

Starr Tour Director Gene Gray on Dino the Dinosaur at Little America Rest Stop

Back on the bus, I played the documentary “Mount Rushmore” from the History Channel. It used primary footage of Gustav Borglum and his workers building Mount Rushmore in the 1930’s. It provided a great appreciation of the patriotic masterpiece that is Mount Rushmore from inception in the 1920’s to completion in the 1940’s. Everyone watched with interest and commented later that the movie really set them up for viewing Mount Rushmore. 

After a few more western tunes, we arrived in Torrington, Wyoming for our lunch stop. Those that ate at Subway or Arby’s were served in quickly and had plenty of time to roam around this Western-style town. 

We were three hours away from Mount Rushmore. On the bus, I showed “Walk the Line”, the Johnny Cash story. Most watched this riveting film with interest and the music was terrific! 

We arrived at Mount Rushmore. The skies had intermittent clouds and the temperature hovered at 54°. The sun weakly peaked through at times. It was a perfect afternoon to view Mount Rushmore. We were amazed at the majestic stone carvings that depict four Presidents of the United States. Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, Jefferson, and Lincoln looked down upon us like royalty from their granite throne. Many of us chose to walk the Presidential Trail which wound around under the base of the monument for up close and personal viewing and photos. Many enjoyed shopping in the wonderful gift shop. A few had hot chocolate by a fireplace in the restaurant. We spent two hours and everyone had a magnificent experience. Mount Rushmore was finally checked off our bucket list!

Mount Rushmore

Less than an hour later, we were checked into our hotel, the Fairfield Inn Rapid City, SD. We look forward to visiting Badlands National Park, our last National Park for this trip, tomorrow. 

Day 22: Sunday, September 24, 2023

The weather was a cool 61° with cloudy skies and strong winds. We departed Rapid City and began our travels to Badlands National Park. 

I began the trip by showing the National Park Service video, “Badlands Suite: Land of Stone and Light”. It was a good introduction to the Badlands of South Dakota. We arrived at the Pinnacles Entrance to Badlands National Park and stopped at four beautiful overlooks; Pinnacles Overlook, Homestead Overlook, Burns Basin Overlook, and Panorama Point. Many disembarked while the weather conditions kept some on board. Each overlook provided different views of rugged terrain with sandstone pinnacles and colorful mounds enriched with iron and manganese. The road through Badlands National Park is just as breathtaking. We traveled on the narrow National Park road that weaved around mounds of colorful sandstone and pinnacled mountains. We stopped at the Visitors Center before departing. Everyone enjoyed the Badlands which was just as beautiful driving through as it was stopping at each overlook.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

We drove to Wall Drug for lunch. Wall Drug is a unique establishment with a huge 560 seat restaurant where you order your food at a counter and your number is called within 10 minutes. In addition, Wall Drug is a department store with 23 themed stores under one roof. Wall Drug was started by the Hustead family in 1931 and became noticed when they advertised free ice water on highway billboards to thirsty travelers heading towards the new attraction of Mount Rushmore. To this day, they offer coffee for 5 cents a cup (and free ice water). Everyone enjoyed their lunch and the unique shopping experience.

Wall Drug Store, South Dakota

We departed Wall Drug and drove over 200 miles East towards Mitchell, South Dakota. I showed the 2004 Academy Award winning movie, “Ray” starring Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles. Ray Charles is an initial inductee into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. The movie depicts a tumultuous first 33 years of his life until he made the decision to wean himself off of heroin. Most watched this dynamic film with interest.  

We arrived at the Comfort Inn ahead of schedule. The tour guests had four restaurants in an adjacent shopping center from which to choose and were now on their own to enjoy their evening.  

Day 23: Monday, September 25, 2023

We departed and drove five minutes to the famous Corn Palace of Mitchell. Troy, the Corn Palace guide, met us and began telling us the history of the three Corn Palaces of which this is the third. He then took us into the main arena and explained the meaning of the hanging wall murals all made of different colored corn. The twenty-minute tour concluded at the gift shop. This was a fast and unique experience for everyone.

The World’s Only Corn Palace, Mitchell, SD

Back on the bus, the tour guests relaxed as the bus stayed quiet. After a short rest stop, I played a few songs requested by tour guests on Day 1 of our trip. We crossed the border from South Dakota into Minnesota where Buddy Holly was traveling in 1959 when his plane crashed. I played two Buddy Holly songs and showed the first half of “The Buddy Holly Story” starring Gary Busey as Buddy Holly.  

We arrived at the Ranch Restaurant in Fairmont, Minnesota for lunch. Our private room was set up with silverware, napkins, and menus. Four servers immediately took our orders. Everyone was served in a timely manner. The food was delicious. Sally, the owner, is wonderful to work with and runs a very efficient restaurant. Everyone enjoyed their lunch.  

I showed the second half of “The Buddy Holly Story”. The tour guests watched with interest despite knowing the predetermined conclusion. Buddy Holly was an initial inductee into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. He died at 22 years old! 

We crossed the border from Minnesota into Iowa. Dyersville, Iowa is the location for “The Field of Dreams”, from the movie of the same name starring Kevin Costner. Dyersville is located about 20 miles west of Dubuque, our destination for tonight. Each year, Major League Baseball plays a regular season game at this field made famous by the movie. I showed the movie, “Field of Dreams”. “Field of Dreams” is one of the best baseball classics of all time and evokes hope, wonder, and emotion. Everyone watched intently. 

We arrived at the Holiday Inn Dubuque and were on our own for the remainder of the evening.

Day 24: Tuesday, September 26, 2023

We departed for Chicago. We immediately crossed the “mighty Mississippi” which was low on water due to droughts. We were now officially in the East again. I played “My Kind of Town” by Frank Sinatra to get us in the Chicago spirit. I then showed the History Channel documentary titled “The Making of the Sears Tower”. We were going to the 103rd floor later today. Parts of the documentary were quite technical, but the primary source footage was fascinating to watch. Many watched with interest while some simply watched with eyes closed.  

We arrived at the Belvedere Oasis Rest Area off of I-90. The Rest Area spans I-90 from above and it is awesome to walk through and look down on the vehicles speeding by.  

Resuming travel, I played many songs from “Chicago” (the group) and then a few more Chicago songs such as “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” and “Chicago – That Toddling Town”. We arrived at the Chicago Navy Pier for a two-hour lunch and shopping event.

The weather became clear and sunny with temperatures hovering around 70°. Many rode the huge Ferris Wheel at the Navy Pier and had a great experience. A group went to Harry Carey’s Restaurant for a nice lunch. Many ordered a Chicago Hot Dog “Dragged Through the Garden” with all kinds of vegetables on it. Some enjoyed lunch at Margaritaville. Most bought a Chicago souvenir or two. Everyone had a wonderful experience at the Chicago Navy Pier.  

Chicago, Illinois

Our next Chicago attraction was the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) Museum, taking the elevator to the 103rd floor, and stepping out onto The Ledge. The weather totally cooperated with us as it has done every day of this glorious Cross Country Trip. The views from the top were spectacular in all directions; Lake Michigan to the north, Indiana to the east, Iowa to the west, and the beautiful city of Chicago everywhere below. The Museum created leading to the elevator was all Chicago honoring Chicago’s history from Fort Dearborn to the Chicago Fire of 1871 to the two Chicago World’s Fairs in 1893 and 1933. The Museum provided opportunities to take pictures with Michelle and Barack, Oprah, and Michael Jordon. There was also a section on the specialty foods of Chicago.  

On the 103rd floor, everyone had the opportunity to step out onto The Ledge where it appears there is nothing below you except the street 103 stories down. Most had a fun time having pictures of themselves taken while appearing suspended in midair. Many were simply proud to have braved The Ledge.

Starr Tour Director Gene Gray – Skydeck Chicago

Many walked to the Route 66 sign across from the Willis Tower for pictures. Once we arrived at the perfectly located Fairfield Inn, we were on our own to enjoy Chicago.

Day 25: Wednesday, September 27, 2023

We were all able to “sleep in” this morning since our Big Bus Tour of Chicago didn’t begin until 10:00 AM. Today is a well-deserved day of rest Fernando.  

The Big Bus Tour of Chicago started with Sara, our talented bus driver, handing each of us earphones that connected to a device at our seats so we could hear the automated narration. Sara drove all around the center of Chicago as we were told about the Magnificent Mile, the many architectural structures, the unique history of Chicago, and many more details. Music was interspersed throughout the narration. We drove past the Field Museum and the Adler Planetarium and stopped to take photos of the Chicago Skyline semi draped in clouds. It was a wonderful tour and provided a great appreciation for this beautiful city.

Chicago Skyline

The Big Bus dropped us off on the Magnificent Mile near The Shops at North Bridge. Everyone was now on their own for lunch. I created a handout of possible lunch places from which the tour guests could choose, and many were resourceful to find others.  

Many were enjoying a special treat from Ghirardelli’s located in the Wrigley Building when I arrived with the tickets to our 2:30 PM Architectural Cruise on the Chicago River and Lake Michigan. Once everyone arrived, we all walked down the 62 steps together to get in line to board the Wendella Boat.  

The skies were overcast with steady winds and temperatures in the low 60’s. It threatened to rain throughout the day but we were extremely fortunate that no rain fell. It was chilly but comfortable enough to sit outside and enjoy the sights and great narration from our guide and very knowledgeable resident of Chicago, Soria. He spoke about Chicago’s history, its magnificent buildings and architecture, and its uniqueness as a city. We passed through the lock that raises the Chicago River five feet to equal the elevation of Lake Michigan so we could pass through smoothly. Coupled with the Big Bus Tour, the tour guests received a great land and sea tour of Chicago gaining a wonderful perspective of our third largest city.  

We walked back to the Fairfield Inn to relax and refresh before meeting in the lobby to walk to dinner at Gino’s East at 5:45 PM. Upon arrival, we were seated upstairs at six booths consisting of 8 seats. The food was delicious. We were served wings, mozzarella sticks, salad, pasta, and a brownie and chocolate chip cookie for dessert. We were called up table by table to receive our choices of pizza – deep dish or flat crust. The pizza was plentiful, and a second helping was possible. Many people truly enjoyed the Chicago deep dish. The two servers assigned to us by Gino’s did a wonderful job taking care of our needs. Everyone enjoyed their dinner and waddled out of Gino’s for a short walk back to our hotel. 

We needed to get to sleep fast. We depart Chicago at 7:00 AM. 

Day 26: Thursday, September 28, 2023

Back aboard the bus, we crossed the border from Illinois into Indiana. The skies were overcast and constantly threatened with rain. Temperatures were in the low 60’s. A few deciduous trees were beginning to change color. Fall was in the air. We headed East towards Cleveland and the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame.  

I kept the bus quiet so everyone could get some rest. Prior to our rest stop at the Craig Travel Plaza in Elkhart, Indiana, our devices changed to Eastern Time. It began to feel like home! I played “Gary Indiana” from The Music Man and “Back Home Again in Indiana”, the song played each year prior to the start of the Indianapolis 500. Following the rest stop, I played the 2002 Academy Award Winning film, “Chicago” starring Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta Jones, and Richard Gere. 

“Chicago” was interrupted by our lunch stop at the Tiffin River Service Plaza in Ohio. Knowing we were having a large dinner tonight, many ate a light lunch or snack. I played the conclusion of “Chicago”. Some had seen the movie before or the live Broadway Show in New York. Everyone enjoyed the movie with magnificent musical numbers such as “Razzle Dazzle” and “And All That Jazz”. 

Following the movie, I told the history of the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame and played songs from the initial inductees from 1986. I instructed everyone about the strategy to get the most out of our visit. Start in the lower level in the Ertigin Room where 80% of the exhibits are found. Then go to the third level and see the plaques of the inductees from 1986-2022. Finish your tour in the gift shop.

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland, OH

Following the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame, we drove to the Hofbrauhaus of Cleveland for our Farewell Dinner. We were led to a long room upstairs that reminded us of Hogwarts. One long table was put together from one end of the room to the other. A German Pretzel with dip was at each place setting. The two servers got everyone’s drink order and proceeded to deliver the drinks. Many tour guests provided a toast wishing everyone good health and safe travels. Some thanked Fernando and me for a great trip. We were one happy family!  

The main course was served along with German Chocolate Cake and coffee. Following dinner, we drove to the schoolhouse that doubles as The Drury Inn of Cleveland. I handed out the keys and everyone was on their own to enjoy our final evening together as the 2023 Starr Cross Country Travelers. 

Day 27: Friday, September 29, 2023

Breakfast was served across from The Teachers’ Lounge on the first floor of this unique Drury Inn. It was a fitting final breakfast for our Cross Country trip. We departed for the last leg of our 27-day journey.  

I began the day by handing out my 8-page “2023 Cross Country Statistics” to each traveler. Shortly after, I asked everyone to take out their 29-page Cross Country booklets to use as a reference and provided the QR Code for the Starr Survey. The tour guests worked diligently on the survey.  

Our first rest stop was the Oakmont Service Plaza on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. It was a beautiful day so we did our final ceremony complete with speeches and award certificates outside on the patio.  

We continued on to our lunch stop, Eat N’ Park in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. I played musical requests from the tour guests and continued to honor future birthdays and anniversaries. Everyone applauded the honorees.  

After a delicious lunch ending with a smile cookie, we traveled toward home. Requests for songs continued my way. Some music was new to me. Everyone was feeling the end of this fabulous 27 day “Trip of a Lifetime”. We all sang “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge and after one more short rest stop, we arrived in Bensalem at 5:15 PM, thus completing our 7,400 mile round-trip adventure to California and back. Fernando was our hero! 

Starr’s 3rd generation owner, Sandy Borowsky greeted us with a “Welcome Home” sign and an acknowledgment speech on the bus that harbored standing ovations.

Starr Owner Sandy Borowsky Welcoming the Group Home

The hugs and tears were authentic as we said goodbye to each other and wished each other well.  

The shuttles were all waiting and lined up to accept luggage and tour guests. I dismissed one destination at a time to keep things running smoothly. Within twenty minutes, all tour guests were seated on their correct shuttle and confirmed their luggage was placed correctly. We departed Bensalem. 

All tour guests were dropped off successfully and picked up by their loved ones or friends. I received a text on Saturday morning from Maribeth in Maryland that Al, Marylanders had arrived safely and in a timely manner. This was the first Starr trip that included tour guests from Eyre Tours Powered by Starr and everything worked to perfection. The 2023 Cross Country trip truly set a high standard for more inclusive trips with Eyre Tours guests in the future.  

Words cannot describe the great job Fernando Berrios did expertly driving every mile of this journey. He cared for the bus at all times, handled each piece of luggage twice a day for 27 days, and kept us all safe every minute of every day. He is fun to be around and has a marvelous sense of humor. Fernando is truly a professional driver and is a pleasure to work with. He is a true asset to the Starr family. 

Thank you all for a fabulous 27 days. I wish everyone good health and continued safe travels! Happy Trails! 

Your Cross Country Tour Director (for the 6th time), 
Gene Gray

Starr Tour Director Gene Gray

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