Cross Country Adventures by Bus 2019 - Eastbound - Part 2 of 2 - Starr Tours & Charters
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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.

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