Polaroid Photo

Uncle Markie out and about.

Refresh for a different picture!


Choose a Topic:

Search Results:

May '18

Trip Report: Couple Of Nights With The Boys

When I find a fare for the low hundreds ($120.40) I book some time with the boys (Mark and Onyx).

Didn’t get out of town until early evening because of a Greek Wine Tasting in the early afternoon. It was in the old Julian’s Pool Hall in South Lake Union – where taking a small car is necessary to get parking:

Basically, that is 6″ behind and 6″ in front. I even get the “short car” discount on the state ferries!

Taking ex-Virgin America metal, where they are only two rows of Premium Seating:

But, because it’s still Virgin metal, there are seat back apps to order as much junk as you want for free in Premium – a step up from Alaska metal (that will be gone by the end of the year):

Yes, that was two doubles. Missed out on the big snack box – thought I’d ordered it, but it didn’t arrive, and was gone when I checked again.

Another amusing thing is seat back entertainment (which includes the food/drink ordering system) which includes a flight map. I just flew over (well, almost) my brother’s house in Coos Bay.

Before I knew it, I was on BART headed to Berkeley:

Did I mention I’m flying REALLY light this trip – yep, one small laptop bag:

Luckily, the boys had some leftovers then I arrived around 11pm… but nothing like dinner the next night, which was a scallop, crab bisque in a lobster broth!

I love staying with the boys (though at this point, they are way over thirty). Here is my dinner shot:

Late afternoon it was back to BART, with a stop at one of my favorite dog stands – in front of the Ashby BART Station:

Then into the lounge:

Sadly, the noodle bar wasn’t open, just burgers, sandwiches, and a lot of booze.


Comments Off on Trip Report: Couple Of Nights With The Boys

Mar '18

Trip Report: Berkeley For Laundry & Good Times

With my washer/dryer still on the fritz, once again I’m checking two bags filled with dirty clothes. Sigh. On the upside, it’s supposed to be delivered and installed the day after I get back.

No upgrade on the way down, and I only had 80% of my seat due to a POS in the middle seat. POS is airline lingo for Person Of Size. And while Alaska (and Southwest) have very generous POS policies, this lady did not take advantage of the offer or possibly didn’t know about it. Here is their policy. In reading it, I learned something new. You can use your companion fare to purchase the second seat, and if there is one seat open, they refund the taxes/fees, and return the companion fare to your account. I’m not sure if she thought that a “Premium Seat” would be wider – it isn’t, just more knee room. Luckily, I know where the latch is to make the aisle seat armrest go up that that we were both (can’t speak for the person in the window) reasonable comfortable on our hour and a half flight. The same for a flight Jill and I took to Boston years ago where she was squished into the window, and I, the aisle as we were in row six, which has fixed arms that hold the tray tables. And this was before they had Premium Class with free booze, which might have made it better.

But, enough about that.

Onyx met me at the airport and we headed off the lunch as is the case when I arrive around 11. He usually hasn’t had food yet, and I’m usually hungry. Today’s restaurant choice was Rudy’s Can’t Fail Café where I had the Rueben (I usually can’t resist) with Cole Slaw, and Onyx had the Denver Omelet minus the bell peppers.

Did I mention Champagne Cocktails as well?

Rudy’s is in the old part of Emeryville – not the high-tech world of Pixar Studios down the road.

This visit is all about hiding out, hanging out, doing laundry, relaxing… and, of course, food. First night’s dinner:

Second day’s afternoon snack at the Berkeley Farmer’s Market up the street from the boys:

Second night’s dinner:

Usually I fly into Oakland and out of San Francisco (taking BART over), but when I booked this months ago, it was only $100.60 round-trip to Oakland and back. I’ll take a deal when I see it!

The reason from plying back out of SFO is that I love the Cathay Pacific lounge and its custom-made noodle bar. No lounge that I have access to in Oakland, but I might actually spring for this one on the next trip ($45, or free to American Express Platinum Cardholders, WOW Business Class, Azores Business Class) since I spent more than the entrance fee on a meal and two drinks.

Inside, before security I had a $25.00 Manhattan (shamefully expensive, but great other than the standard red cherries), and past security it was a couple of starters and a shot of Commenerativo.

Better to eat in the airport, and to subsist on drinks and the snack box on the plane:

Had lovely company in the middle seat on the return flight – everyone in a festive mood with the free cocktails.

The last of the mileage runs, for a bit. Was home by 10pm, in bed by midnight.

[? ? ?]

Comments Off on Trip Report: Berkeley For Laundry & Good Times

Jan '18

Trip Report: Hiding Out In Berkeley For A Couple Of Days

After a week of work and crazy travel, I’m taking off a couple of days to visit the boys in Berkeley.

I was pleasantly surprised the morning of my flight to get an upgrade after checking in last night, but before heading out to the airport – means I’ll eat less in the lounge before the flight.

And it was a good breakfast considering it was a 2 hour flight:

The yellow stuff is a sliced egg salad – went on the warm croissant with the lettuce and actually ripe Roma tomatoes.

After my week of flying I set up my computer at Mark and Onyx’s place, and tucked in for a three-hour nap – which I seriously needed.

This trip is all about hiding away in Berkeley for a couple days so I can catch up on the blog, and more importantly work on my taxes.

Well, that, and stocking up the suitcase with Bourbon for the return, and enjoying some FINE meals out of their kitchen.

The first night was bacon-wrapped filets with roasted potatoes and a lovely Peruvian Tannat that I brought with me from Seattle:

The next (and final) night Onyx made these massive meatballs to go with a wee bit of pasta and a lot of peas! The meatballs are a day-long preparation in the crock pot and are the size of a hardball baseball – but much tastier.

I did get my tax preparation done for both the shop and my own business – so mission accomplished. And on the flight down I made Alaska MVP status through 2019.

Lunetta ran me to the BART station hours before my flight so I could hang out in the Cathy Pacific Lounge while they still had their noodle station open:

Sadly, I got their at 10:30am and they started shutting down noodles at 10:45 and the hot food was taken away by 11am – I got a round of noodles and two hot plates:

That said – it is a nice lounge:

After the hot food went away, it was just green and pasta salads – fortunately the left the bar out!

The current downside to flying Alaska out of SFO is that they are spread between two terminals – that aren’t connection behind security. While I have access to most American Lounges, it doesn’t include the one in SFO since there were too many Alaska people using it (and it’s the terminal with the domestic Alaska flights). So, after the food, it’s back to the other side of security, catch the train to Terminal 2, then go back through screening.

At least there is a great bookstore in Terminal Two – Compass Books, which always has a good selection of “remaindered” books:

They also have this great “typewriters through the ages” exhibit as well:

Before I knew it, I was back in my comfy seat with a snack in front of me:

Hours later I was home in time to make myself a little dinner – for tomorrow I’m working the shop.

[? ? ?]

For more blog posts, CLICK HERE.

Comments Off on Trip Report: Hiding Out In Berkeley For A Couple Of Days

Jan '18

Home Report: Home For The Holidays

Yep, it’s already a third of the way through January, and I’m finally documenting my Christmas/New Year fun.

After visiting friends in Forks the first two days of Mark and Onyx’s visit, I returned home to a full holiday feeding schedule. Look at the Beef Wellington that Onyx (and Mark) made for a group dinner at his cousin’s house in West Seattle:

I brought a 3-liter bottle of Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volante Blanc – a replacement for a bottle that died a year ago Thanksgiving. We put a good dent in it!

Talk about a WONDERFUL meal:

Next up on the holiday parade was dinner up north at mutual friends, Seth, and his daughter Maia. As you can tell, it was a mess of wrapping paper:

More dinners with friends but no photographs….but I did get photos of Mark helping me with making some pillow covers at xMess presents:

And, mind you, I’m also working the shop in the holiday season:

Christmas Eve dinner found me working until five, while Onyx and crew worked on a Beef Bourguignon
in my kitchen:

It was a nice hearty meal to go with our Christmas Eve snow…

And it’s not the holidays unless the plumbing goes south, first it was the dishwasher not draining, and then all the connections to the kitchen sink dripping…

As you can tell, this isn’t the first time – the above is with all the racks ripped out. And below with a heater drying everything out:

Having the Ford Escape DOES help in the repairs:

I used basement subflooring turned the wrong way to give the cabinet a waterproof base:

And because of the cold, the outdoor icemaker stopped working….

Between Christmas and New Year’s, more Bay Area friends showed up – and out to lunch we go, to try the new Mexican restaurant on 14th:

Excellent food, but a bit on the pricey side….


And for dinner, Roxy and his boyfriend showed up for shrimp fried rice:

Eating well this holiday season!

Trip Advisor sent me this little video about my 2017 Travel:

And the plumbing issues continue…, now the washer/dryer combo is washing, but not drying – time to rip that apart when I start running out of clean clothes. Oi!


For more posts from the blog, CLICK HERE.

Comments Off on Home Report: Home For The Holidays

Dec '17

Trip Report: The Train Home

Thanks to an extra car at the house, I was able to drive myself to the train station in Lamy (LMY), and just lock the keys in the truck. VERY convenient.

Lamy used to have a great restaurant, sadly, closed, since Lamy is in the middle of nowhere.

I always show up early – an hour early. But the train is on time!

And soon, I was onboard:

I’m on the lower level in a roomette for the trip to Los Angeles…

Next stop is Albuquerque – where we had about 45 minutes…and time for me to get a hot dog!

Settled in, it’s just watching the countryside rolling by…..

And then it was time for dinner!

I went for the Land and Sea. That would be a steak and a seafood cake:

I always get my dessert to go, because the meals are so big – but about 9PM I need a snack…

The whipped cream looked better an hour ago…then it’s on to cocktails…

Life is hard on the train – especially if you need a smoke break, which I don’t. But nice to have a cocktail on the platform at Flagstaff.

Off to bed as it’s up at 5AM for breakfast and then back to bed before we pull into LA.

And that’s when it all went to shit. Nothing like an email from Amtrak saying…

Our records indicate that you are scheduled to depart on Amtrak train number 14 from Los Angeles, California at 10:10AM on Thursday December 7 and arriving in Seattle (King St. Station), Washington.

That schedule has been cancelled due to a service disruption. There is no alternate service available. To speak to a customer service representative about travel options such as selecting another date or destination call us at 877-231-9448 at your earliest convenience.

We apologize for any inconvenience and thank you for being a valued Amtrak customer.

I love the phrase, “There is no alternate service available.”

My response was to go the Sleeping Car Lounge on the second floor of the LA train station – where there is a real person, with real powers. And more importantly, answers.

And the answer was – yes, we will get you there. Bus to Bakersfield, San Joaquin to Emeryville, meet the Coast Starlight and actually get into my bedroom.

Here is a map to show you the route:

Up the middle was my route…not the coastal route to the left. I did get to see the Central Valley – the vegetable basket of America.

But it was on a bus…

Which they actually provided water, chips, snack box, and even a 6-inch sandwich from Subway:

Managed to get an hour or two of sleep before we hooked up with the San Joaquin:

If there is a silver lining to this “service disruption”, it’s that I have a 2+ hour layover in Emeryville which means I have time to have dinner with Mark and Onyx at Los Molés restaurant in Emeryville:

It was an unexpected pleasure – I’ll see the boys in a week or so in Seattle, but always nice for a random visit.

Before I knew it, it was back to the station:

And into my bedroom unit. It was late when I boarded, so the Car Attendant had already made up both beds. I usually go for just the upper, but it was nice to have a four-foot-wide bed to roll around in. And yes, he brought me a bucket of ice:

It’s a little crowded with both beds down.

Much more comfortable with the bed up:

Nothing like a sunrise in the Cascades…

Again, it was up at 6:30, eat breakfast, back to bed. Hard to turn down free meals. But I was up for lunch, where I took a chance on the steamed mussels:

I was pleasantly surprised. I would have used coconut milk, ginger, and lemon root, but for being on a train, it was good. Yes, I’m drinking Merlot with the mussels!

Just before Portland is Oregon Falls, site of an old paper mill I visited in my Microsoft days….

Dinner was even better (though a tad early for me – 5:30, because of our arrival time). On the Coast Starlight, you can dine solo in the Parlour Car (though this one was actually a bi-level café car since the Parlour Car was in the shop). I would have gone back for the steak, but the Braised Lamb Shank is the STAR of this route.

Train arrived early – I was home by 8:30.

Time to relax, and start the process of trying to get some of the points back for the bedroom that I didn’t have for 24 hours.

  • Call One – to the number on the “you are screwed” notice. Sorry, you completed the trip, and since it was on points, you need to contact Amtrak Guest Rewards.
  • Call Two – Amtrak Guest Rewards, you need to contact Customer Relations, which is only open Monday-Friday 6am to 9pm Monday to Friday, and no, there isn’t a direct line. Call 1-800-USA-RAIL, punch 0 a couple of times, ask the agent to transfer you.
  • Call Three – wait for Monday to roll around, get through to Guest Relations, file a claim to which they say they will email off. NO direct resolution.

At least they were quick – the next day 7,000 points were back in my account – which I think is a little shy of what I’m deserves for 1/3 of time in a sleeper that cost me 33,776 points. Might need to bitch some more.

That said, the “service disruption” was serious – it was the California wild fires that shut down the coastal route. I actually found a video clip shot from the tracks that the train runs – and the flames are close, and days later, I figured out how to embed the video from USA Today:

That’s it for this adventure – only one more for the year, but I’ll do a yearly travel update before the end of the year.


For all the posts on my blog, CLICK HERE.

Comments Off on Trip Report: The Train Home

Oct '17

Trip Report: Birthday By The Bay

Another weekday, another trip – this one to the Bay Area to visit Mark and Onyx, and celebrate my 61st birthday!

It’s always lots of luggage when I visit – bringing wine to the boys. A lot of stuff for three nights!

Another early morning flight….

And no upgrade to first…

But plenty of room in the overhead!

Onyx was a saint (a hungry saint) and stopped at a small burger stand on the way home.

Pretty good stuff (even if the staff is a little surly).

Got settled in and took a nap before getting rousted for a dinner of take-out Ethiopian which, for some reason, I don’t have a picture of, even though the boys had company over – must have been having too much fun.

Was up late (Mark [the other one] was up until 4am working), so slept late. Hit BevMo in the afternoon for bourbon, rye, and ginger – because at 6pm we are due at Rosenblum Cellars on the Oakland waterfront for the start of my birthday (61) evening:

Devon is a member so the first flight is on the house….

A good time was had!

Even the hipsters who are playing Giant Zynga on the lawn:

We had some little nibbles, but it was off to dinner at Marica, starting with a Beefeater Martini in honor of Pucci:

It was a fine meal…. with free mussels for the birthday party!

Followed by swordfish for several of us:

Meatballs for Devon:

Salad and Calamari for Mark (I thought about those, almost wish I’d ordered them):

A damn fine birthday meal!

Friday was a laid-back day, I took BART into town to hook up with Rache who as on a day trip to the Brazilian embassy for our upcoming trip to Uruguay in November.

Takes about 15 minutes to walk to the station, and 20-30 minutes later, you are in downtown San Francisco. I found Rache in the Ghirardelli chocolate shop having a coffee:

We headed out for an afternoon of drinking, starting at The House of Shields:

Next up is the Pied Piper (which didn’t open until 4pm):

The Pied Piper is the home of this WONDERFUL mural by Maxfield Parish:

Just the three of us having scallops and Brussel sprouts as our dinner.

All the fun came to an end with an early Saturday morning run to the Oakland Airport for my return home. Had enough time for a real breakfast at Chili’s…

Which, as it turns out, sadly I wouldn’t need when I heard my name called:

But really, all I wanted was a place to sleep, not a huge breakfast burrito and a fruit place (though it looked REALLY good).

Next week is Kansas City, and the completion of my quest for Alaska MVP Gold 75K!

[? ? ?]

Comments Off on Trip Report: Birthday By The Bay

Aug '17

Trip Report: Day Four On Kauai – Winding It Up.

Today is a driving tour day…have to be out of the condo at noon, plane leaves at 10pm. Went back to the meadery, and finally there was no crowd. Sampled five that they had on offer…none of them tasty enough to bring back to Onyx, who makes mead in Berkeley.

Headed up the North Coast.

And some great reuse of TEU’s (Twenty Foot Equivalent Units) for stores in a village of little houses:

Kept driving, further and further north, over a dozen one lane bridges, and fording a creek, before I gave up and turned around, and headed back to Hanalie for lunch at Bouchans. Just wanted a little something to tide me over (well, and a cocktail). Cheese burger is was (not the Kobe Gourmet):

And some views on the way back to Kapaa…

Where I explored some falls outside Kapaa (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%27Opaeka%27a_Falls)…

And the river park below the falls:

Once past Kapaa, investigated options for gasoline before I return the car, and tried to find a bar that we went to back in 1990 – The Club Jetty, it was so run down at that point the sign said lub Jetty. Didn’t find it – and some research yielded that it was it was destroyed in a hurricane in 1992.

There is a great history of the club and the harbor here: http://imagesofoldhawaii.com/club-jetty/ Seems that it was a hangout for the likes of John Wayne and Lee Marvin at one time.

But, I did find a Princess Cruise Line pulling out…

Here is my driving tour of Kauai today:

I was on the road so long today, I actually put the top up for a couple of the mid-day hours – I was baking!

A quick stop (they were closing) at the Salvation Army – picked up a small duffle bag to hold all the SPAM (there are 17 varieties, many hard to find on the mainland) and shirts I’d bought, got some gas, headed to the airport to check-in when they opened. Three days a week, Alaska runs an evening flight to/from Kaui, so the ticket counter opens in the morning for the early flight, closes, opens again a 7pm for the evening flight.

Although I’m in First Class on the return, red-eye flights generally don’t have much in the way of food. So, it’s off to the sit-down restaurant in the airport, where you can get a “real” drink:

They were out of the kalua pork sliders, so I opted for the kalua pork nachos…

We loaded the plane early, after I’d had a lovely conversation with a fellow traveler, hopefully he’ll show up at the wine shop!

This is the look on Uncle Markie’s face when he discovers two pre-5 children in rows 1 and 2 (when he is in row 1).

Thankfully, they crashed out early, it being a red-eye, leaving me time to not sleep, play solitaire, and drink.

This would be the “food” on the flight, in addition to the nuts.

It was about a five-and-a-half-hour flight. I got maybe an hour of sleep, got home at 7:15, set the alarm, and went to bed, only to get up at 9:30am, to open up the shop at 11 and work a full shift.

Maybe I should have taken Sunday off, as well as Saturday.

Live and learn.

[? ? ?]



Comments Off on Trip Report: Day Four On Kauai – Winding It Up.

Jul '17

Trip Report: Berkeley To Get Some Work Done

An old 737-700 on the flight to Oakland – no outlets, no extra legroom for rows 7-12 (I was in row 6 which does have extra leg room since its bulkhead) and a completely packed flight.

Got my one free cocktail and nursed it – and they gave me the fancy chocolate too!

So, old plane, and no boarding bridge – the infamous Gate 12A/B/C/D:

Thankfully, it was a sunny day. It’s a miserable way to board a plane.

The boys were there to meet me at the airport – and thankfully provide me with a breakfast sandwich. I’m starting to rely on those snack boxes in Premium Class!

With my early departure, it was nap time for Uncle Markie…

But, as always, the food at the Lunetta/Onyx palace is marvelous….

And this was leftovers! I’d eat it again and again.

Having dropped off a case of wine, it was time to go to BevMo and fill my suitcase:

Wished I’d brought the new credit card to put that on that I need $3K in spending in the next couple of months. Still, WAY cheaper than Seattle.

Got a bunch of work done during the day, just in time for another FABULOUS at-home meal – from scratch (well beyond my skill set).

I am soooo lucky!

And the WINE!

I’ve dated guys that weren’t around when that wine was made – well, probably not, but close.

I’ve got a late flight out of SFO, and Lunetta kindly gave me a ride to the BART station at Ashby. Since I’m flying Virgin America, I don’t have lounge access even though I’m a Board Room member, seems to not extend to Virgin flights. Thankfully I’ve got a pass for the United Club one terminal (through security) over.

Creamy Chicken Corn Chowder, a little salad, a cocktail, some newspapers….life is good.

Nice club – only been open a couple of years.

And they even have one of those snazzy Coke Mix Your Own Blend dispensers…

Spent a couple of hours there before heading back to Terminal Two where my Virgin America flight is leaving from. To get to the gate, walked past an Admirals Club – odd that they won’t accept my Virgin ticket, just Alaska ones but by this point I was just a few minutes from boarding.

Terminal Two has (at the moment) an interesting display of old typewriters, including a couple of Japanese ones:

Actually booked a First Class ticket since it was only $160 – and they ARE comfortable seats:

And a nice amount of legroom:

For some reason I didn’t get a picture of the “Protein Platter” – other choice was a Thai Chicken Salad – and after that, they brought around a tray of Dean and Deluca treats.

Life isn’t bad.

Didn’t get home until almost midnight, luckily I don’t work this Friday.

[? ? ?]

Comments Off on Trip Report: Berkeley To Get Some Work Done

Oct '16

Trip Report: Bay Area For A Couple Of Nights

It was February the last time that I was in the Bay Area – I travel so much I had to look it up!

This trip I have one night in the city and two nights with The Boys (Lunetta and Onyx).

Overcast, but a nice day to fly – not my plane, but a recent delivery in the Boeing 100th anniversary livery:

Got the lucky upgrade to first on the way down – not aisle, but bulkhead:

Which means food…

And views:

This is Point Reyes coming into SFO:

The first night I’m staying just off Union Square and connecting with my buddy, Moody, who I haven’t see in a year.

This is the place that Salamander has booked for his birthday in the spring – though I booked him on the top floor which doesn’t have elevator access – you have to walk the last flight at the back of the building:

These are two places I’m sure he’ll want to check out since he’s a writer:

But he’ll probably spend all his time here:

Or Chinatown:

All are mere blocks from the condo.

Had dinner with Moody at Cesario Brasserie which had a 10% off discount from the condo. Oddly, they didn’t have a full bar, but they did have a Sochu (24% alcohol by volume Korean) Martini. Yes, a Korean-based drink in an Italian Restaurant. I’m a little surprised that two of the restaurants we looked at going to didn’t have a full bar (neither did the Saloon from my last visit).

Moody had the Lasagna, which was massive and “food coma” worthy – I went with the starter of mussels, sopping up all the juice with the bread. Oddly, no food pictures. Guess we were too engaged to get out phones.

He had an early morning, so alas, no sleepover which meant I stayed up late knowing I could sleep in

Got out of the unit just before noon and headed to my usual lunch spot, Maru Sushi:

And my lunch Bento:

Having left my bags at the front desk, my destination after lunch was a KLM pop-up store front…apparently they have just started SFO-AMS direct service – they even had a babe on the corner with signal lights:

And free coffee drinks (and water, and key chains):

And a working business class demonstration – though no entertainment system:


A fun way to kill some time before heading back to the condo, picking up the bags and heading to Berkeley on BART.

Tonight’s dinner is a duck/mushroom soup (yum) with a little white wine…nothing fancy, just tasty:

And Lunetta even made me a cruise ship bed:

Today’s agenda involves checking our one of our distributors (North Berkeley Imports), picking up a bottle of bubbles while there.

We actually have a customer that calls and picks up her Wine Club curbside – didn’t know other folks did that as well. Nor have I ever seen such a specific time amount on a parking sign:

Then off to The Berkeley Bowl for tonight’s meal – marinated black cod, salad, bread joined by Devon and Alicia.

But first, the rosé bubbles that I brought.

Luckily the black cod is rich enough to stand up the 2007 Château Nuef du Pape that Devon brought! So much for the magnum of Bonny Doon Vin Gris rosé I’d brought with me.

It was a fun evening – and sadly I have to head to the airport in the morning.

No upgrade to First Class on the way home, I’m 7th down the list – but I do have access to the Singapore Business Class Lounge – I chose my flight specifically to be in the lounge when the noodle bar is open:

Hard not to love this lounge. But alas, I have to fly away – only had an hour to stuff myself before snuggling into Seat 6D.

Maybe next time I’ll get lucky – though the mid-day flight is ALWAYS packed.


Comments Off on Trip Report: Bay Area For A Couple Of Nights

Mar '16

Trip Report: El Paso & The Train Home

Another week, another trip, or so it seems. This week it’s the red-eye after closing the shop after a special Château Nuef du Pape Tasting. Getting home at 8 left just enough time to put together a chef salad and grab an Uber (click on Uber for your first $15 ride free) to the airport. Luckily, the Alaska Upgrade Gods smiled on both Rach and myself – seats 1D and 1F (after a little switching around)

He looks comfortable – as for me, I’m just crazy:

It’s a red-eye that leaves at 12:50am, so you don’t get much in the way of food:

Rach slept after food, I, foolishly watched all sorts of movies, drank all sorts of drinks, and generally DIDN’T look this good at our 5am arrival in Chicago, the three-hour layover (which I did sleep), and our eventual arrival in El Paso:

I actually know a couple of people in the El Paso area, and one of them (Aaron – a former couchsurfing guest of mine) met us at the airport for the ride to our hotel – The El Camino Real.

Got checked in on the second try and the room was adequate. I was hoping for nicer considering how cool the lobby is, but more on that later. First up it was lunch at Anson 11 Bistro. I had the pork belly tacos, as did Aaron:

Rach had the Tomato Mozzarella Sandwich with Prosciutto after his Asparagus Soup – and the fries on the right are Truffle-Parmesan Fries (YUM):

And, of course, there were cocktails!

After that meal, both Rach and I needed a nap since we (Uncle Markie, Aaron, Aaron’s Ex, Johnny [who also surfed my house], and Aaron’s 22-year-old US Army husband) are headed out for a Mexican food dinner tonight – actually Brandon (the husband) is just joining us for cocktails in the lovely lobby bar with stained glass Tiffany Dome:

And the rest of the lobby rocks as well – love the stairwells:

Actually, downtown El Paso has a lot of nice old Art Deco era buildings that have survived:

Later I’ll show you the train station, but that’s tomorrow! First we have to get through dinner at Kiki’s Mexican Restaurant:

I had the Chicken Molé which was tasty and I could only finish half it – in the background you see a glass of sangria that wasn’t overly sweet – went well with the spice:

After dinner it was off to the scenic overlook where you can see all of El Paso, and Juarez on the Mexican side of the border:

Beautiful sight – but CROWDED with people. Lots of couples.

I headed back to the room, Rach and Aaron headed to a brew pub to wait for Brandon to get off work – then we all reconvened in the room for cocktails – it was a great evening of catching up and getting to know Brandon.

Morning brought me sleeping in late (as usual) with Rach up early to journal (usual) – and a late (just prior to the lunch menu) breakfast at the restaurant in the hotel – La Huerta Café:

We both had the “Divorced Eggs” [$8.00), mine with Green Chile, Rach’s with Christmas Chile [half red, half green] – funny that it’s served with a small quesadilla, but it was all tasty. I almost had to go back to bed after this breakfast – but at noon we were off to the railroad station – which was a TAD further than I expected. Probably should have had the hotel shuttle take us with all the bags we had. We went shopping in El Paso yesterday after lunch to pick up Bourbon and Ginger for the trip.

Found on the trek to the train station – it was a great day for a walk:

And the train station itself – now if the train weren’t running late, though after the late heavy breakfast, not sure if I’d be ready for lunch at 1:30:

And a gorgeous interior – I love how Amtrak and the cities they serve have been resurrecting and renovating their old stations:


Settled in for lunch, at almost 3PM, well past the usual time they serve, but they extended it for the El Paso folks. Burgers for both of us:

I like that shot! And the lunch view – yes, that would be Mexico on the other side of that fence:

Steaks for dinner (see other Amtrak posts for pictures) – but I had to rush through dinner so I could get a “platform hug” from my buddy Joe:

He didn’t have long, but enough time to see our Bedroom unit on the train. This is my compartment selfie with him:

This is his compartment selfie with me:

I think I like he surreal one better.

From past experience – time to take a shower because we arrive in Los Angeles VERY early in the morning, and I’ve found I’m cranky if I’m not clean while waiting for the next train:

And then bed:

Alas, you can no longer leave your shoes for the car attendant to shine while you sleep – the door, long since removed on the outside, just the frame left on the inside of the closet:

We arrived in Los Angeles early – which I didn’t really want to happen, since the arrival time was already early: 5:35am. At least we have the Metropolitan Lounge to hang out in until our 9:30am boarding:

Even the non-First Class passengers have a nice space to hang out in:

There is even a piano for people to play!

Lots of Amtrak trains coming and going from Union Station in Los Angeles:

We get boarded – and get comfortable – making early morning Bloody Marys as we roll out of the station:

Between the two of us we have great connectivity – Rach has an ATT HotSpot that I’ve been using since ATT coverage in the Southwest is better than my T-Mobile coverage which we switched to after our Eugene, Oregon stop. You can see his HotSpot attached to a mount on the table mount. But Eugene is a long way from where we are at the moment – one of the most beautiful chunks of this trip, the stretch between Los Angeles and Santa Barbra:

And here is a little video clip from that section of track:

Salads for lunch after our big breakfast in the morning (and my return to bed):

More good weather as we head north – here was are at a “smoke break” in San Luis Obispo – also a crew change stop for the train engineers:

Please note the fetching Hello Kitty cap from my trip to Maui.

And talk about a little snack before dinner (since we have a late reservation), how about chopping up the remainder bagel dog from breakfast (they were $5 each, or two for $8) – with a little dark mustard. I had one for breakfast while Rach had a ham and cheese croissant – decent food (and a small grocery store) in Union Station in LA:

The sundown waiting for dinner:

Dinner – the braised lamb shanks in the Parlour Car. This is one of their most popular recipes!

Sorry for the blurry photo, but it was as good as always – click here for the recipe.

After dinner, it was another “platform hugs” moment – once again with Onyx and Lunetta in Emeryville – this time no delivery of mixers needed!

Breakfast at 8, lunch at noon, an early dinner at 5:30 – means that it’s our last day on The Coast Starlight.

And now for a station break, starting with Eugene:

And Portland:

And a shot of our lovely Parlour Car exterior. For those that don’t know, the Parlour Car is reserved for use by Sleeping Car passengers on The Coast Starlight, the only train that has Parlour Cars.

To close this post – Mount Rainier in the background, passing over the Columbia River headed into Vancouver, USA.

Such a lovely journey.


Comments Off on Trip Report: El Paso & The Train Home

Feb '16

Trip Report: Winter Break With Bliss – The Train Home

After a lovely couple of days in Santa Fe, it’s time for the relaxing train ride home – and our train is on time:

And before long, Bliss and I are settled into our compartment which is called “The Family Bedroom“, meaning no toilet/shower en-suite.

Here is the diagram from the Amtrak sight so you get a feel for the room configuration:

The Family Bedrooms are on the lower level and stretch side-to-side so you get lots of pretty picture taking opportunities:

Here is a short (one-minute) clip of the above…

As the sun goes down, we head into the dining car for dinner:

We both had the steak dinner and got our desserts “to-go” after dinner. Meals are included when you book a sleeping car. And it is nice to be able to stretch out – AND have a place to put your luggage since se don’t have any children with us.

Slumber time followed by a 5am breakfast call – because of the schedule it’s a short (1-hour) breakfast – and I noticed MANY of the Sleeping Car passengers just skipping it. As for me? I just went back to bed after.

Train was early into Los Angeles’ Union Station so we hung out in the Metropolitan Lounge in the station – it’s for the use of Sleeping Car passengers and Business Class passengers on the Surfliner.

9:30 they rousted us to the platform. It’s a bit of a hike, but walking was quicker than waiting for Red Cap service – and since we’ll be sitting for the next two days, best to walk.

Our train (The Coast Starlight) backing into Union Station:

After getting settled I took a shower (down the hall) which I probably should have down after breakfast on the Southwest Chief. I might have been less cranky. Or maybe just a Screwdriver with a splash of Pomegranate Grenadine:

Orange Juice (and coffee) courtesy of Amtrak. Each Sleeper Car has a coffee pot and juice station. These days it’s only orange juice, in the past it was orange, apple, and cranberry AND actual oranges and bananas and the complementary mini-bottle of sparkling wine when you boarded. Yes, the quality has gone down on Amtrak trains in the last couple of years – no amenity kits any longer as well.

But where did we get the Pomegranate Grenadine? Well, in addition to the 6 bottles of hard liquor I bought in Santa Fe, and the 6 bottles that Bliss bought – my sis-in-law also gave me the remnants of my late mother’s liquor cabinet. If you are keeping score, four people have given me their liquor dregs (one in recover, one dead, two people moved). No bourbon left, but things like the Grenadine, Blood Mary mix, Crème de Menthe, odd mixers…

Next up, a Bloody Mary with cracked pepper on the top (courtesy of Alaska Airlines – for the pepper) complete with swizzle sticks (courtesy of Cathy Pacific and oddly in my laptop bag):

Beautiful views as we sit down to lunch. The section between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara is really stunning:

And lunch isn’t bad (these would be the bar-b-qued lamb shanks with garlic mashed potatoes and a side salad, plus iced-tea…

More scenery shots from our room after lunch:

Tanks of Fire Water – like moonshine? And the rolling hills outside of San Luis Obispo:

San Luis Obispo is also a smoke stop (or in our case, a stretch your legs get some fresh air stop):

Random tourist, the guy in the engineer’s hat is a regular at the station – not an employee, but “challenged” guy with a love for trains (notice train band radio attached on his back pocket), and our conductor Joy – who I’ve had before so he knows the drill (with the help of a $20) about keeping us stocked with ice – LOTS of ice:

While we are stocked on booze and ice, after several days on the train we are running low on Ginger Ale – luckily, after dinner we are passing through Emeryville and a couple of texts to Lunetta & Onyx, we have more mixers, and a wine shipper (much better than the WalMart cheap duffle I bought in Santa Fe) and a bonus of a bottle of their Honey Mead – and a platform visit!

And said box of supplies:

Time for bed as the Emeryville stop is at 10pm.

Breakfast at a more reasonable hour (7am) but I still went back to bed after:

Because outside it looked like this.

By lunch, the weather has improved:

But we are an hour behind schedule because of signal problems in the mountains (most likely from the now). Every Amtrak trip I have to have the Angus burger at least once:

It’s a mouthful but I cut them in half.

I’d planned on getting out for a stretch in Eugene, but when I got to the door – it was dumping rain. Back to the couch for me.

Almost an hour late getting into Portland – and rain – a parked a long way from the terminal, no Metropolitan Lounge in Portland stop for me this trip – and they cut the time of the stop in half to make up ground.

The downside of the current Coast Starlight schedule is with an 8pm arrival time in Seattle you have dinner service starting at 5pm – and we had lunch at 12:30. For dinner I opted for the crab/shrimp cakes like the previous night’s meal (more shrimp than crab), but without the side salad – and I still only made it through one of the two cakes – still full from lunch!

In the end we were only ten minutes late into Seattle where we split up and ordered up Ubers home. (Click on the word Uber to sign up and get a free $15 ride).

269-299 S King St, Seattle, WA
1029-1045 S Rose St, Seattle, WA




$15.00 from the Amtrak station to my house – not bad. I’m sure Bliss’ was less than $8.00.


Comments Off on Trip Report: Winter Break With Bliss – The Train Home

Feb '16

Trip Report: Bay Area

When I booked this bargain ticket I didn’t know whether Lunetta would be in town so I also booked the WorldMark San Francisco, which is between Union Square and Nob Hill/Chinatown.

But first I have to get there – doesn’t this look like a good day to fly?

Luckily all of Alaska’s planes are equipped with RNP (Required Navigation Performance) which is great for inclement weather, though by takeoff time it looked more like this:

Didn’t snag an upgrade, which you all know how I feel about that…

That would be seat 6C – which is a bulkhead seat – But 6A was open over I moved (and the lady next to me moved to the aisle) Now I have a view (but more of a pain to use the lavatory):

Maybe I should get window seats for often! That was the view coming into San Francisco…

And the perks of MVP Gold extend to the back of the plane (barely), so I get a free cocktail with my bag of kibble:

Since I was bringing a case of wine with me, Saint Onyx picked me up at the airport (yes, I do deliver wine to customers of Madrona Wine Merchants) – and off to a wonderful lunch at Maru Sushi as a thank you:

That would be the Sushi/Sashimi Combination Platter ($25) plus a Nigori Sake ($16) to share.

I’d hoped to meet up with Mud, my Egyptian fling from the summer – but alas, he has disappeared into the wind so it’s dinner by myself tonight – THE WORST Rueben in almost 60-years of the Perfect Ruben Hunt. The honor goes to the Sutter Pub. You can read the review here:

I had planned on eating out, but when I discovered the “Pub” only served beer and wine, I opted for takeout since it was just a block from the condo – and I forgot to show pictures of the 1-bedroom condo:

Staying in the city is a nice chance from the East Bay – so I explore parts of the city that I’d never wandered through, like Chinatown:

And Ash Wednesday to boot – so EVERY church is packed, and ash-laden people are wondering the streets:

Gorgeous day in the city…swung back to the condo for a take-out wrap from the little grocery store (Food Fair Market) that was a spicy chicken curry thing that was wonderful – it set a nice base for me to handle the next stop of my city exploration…the world-famous Tonga Room at the San Francisco Fairmount Hotel:

And the crazy-ass Tiki interior:

I just stayed for one drink – the Lychee Martini featured above.

And what San Francisco posting is complete without a cable car shot – this line is two blocks from the condo…

One day I’ll get an all-day pass and just ride them around, but not this trip.

The next morning it was off to Café del La Presse (a block away) for the BEST Eggs Benedict I have ever had in my life:

The next day I did an owner re-education dealy for $125 and lunch…

Who can’t resist a neighborhood that offers this, and who knew Thursday night was “Circle Jerk With A Porn Star” night:

Late afternoon finds me making my way to the East Bay for an overnight with Lunetta & Onyx – giving up my last night in the condo for a home-cooked meal.

Nothing like a “small” ham…

And the company of my niece and her boyfriend…

Nice to be able to just hang around the house, not having an early flight – and hang out in the sunshine:

Headed home Friday afternoon – got to spend a little time in the Cathy Pacific Business Class Lounge, alas, not while they were doing their buffet set-up, but at least there were chips, drinks, and newspapers….

And a pretty sunset:

Before you know it, I’m back in coach winging my way home with my one free cocktail and my 3-ounce carryon.

[? ? ?]

Comments Off on Trip Report: Bay Area

Sep '15

Trip Report: Quick Trip To Berkeley

The travel season is here for Uncle Markie – this week it’s a quick trip to Berkeley to see Lunetta and Onyx. I realized when I got down there it had been a year since I’d been to see they. Didn’t seem like that long since they visited me in Victoria last January.

Three selfies to start the post. Lounge, plane, and BART:


It’s wonderful flying into the Bay Area now that both SFO and OAK are connected via BART. No trips to the airport during rush hour – I just get off the plane and BART to Ashby Station – though I might start having them pick me up there as my knee and foot weren’t really happy. Still beat the 30 minutes each way to OAK and 45 to SFO (depending on traffic).

Got there to find them working on their front steps – a project that has stretched for years and should be able to withstand a magnitude 9 earth quake.

Tonight we are holding dinner until 9pm so that Alicia and Devon can come after work – they are stunned to find dinner waiting for them after their group sessions let out (they are both counselors so no pictures). Yum, grilled scallops and a citrus salad – and wine provided by Uncle Markie.

Lots of reorganizing downstairs – one of the reasons I hadn’t visited in a year is they had a roommate who stayed longer than they were expecting – so now my office/bedroom downstairs looks like this:

Which sits atop this wonderful old rail freight cart.

Following day did my booze shopping at BevMo, cashing in a 5% coupon I’d just scored. Made California booze even cheaper!

Tonight’s dinner was equally wonderful grilled chicken breast with a salad with lots of roasted pine nuts in it. I brought a magnum on Scarello with me (a light Italian Red).

Before I knew it – time to go back to Seattle. Two nights passes quickly – but at least I didn’t hit the dreaded three night when fish and houseguests start to turn:

“Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.”
Benjamin Franklin

And besides that, the stuffed animals were starting to attack me:

Learning my lesson, Lunetta gave me a ride back to the BART station for my trip to SFO. I went HOURS early because Alaska Airlines in temporarily in the International Terminal and with no lounge they are contracting with Cathay Pacific for lounge services – and Cathay Pacific’s lounge is only for Business and First Class passengers on when flying with them. They really knock it out of the park starting with the cardboard cutout that greets you down a long hallway:

I got there just as they opened up their made-to-order noodle bar featuring Dan Dan Noodles, Won Ton Noodles and one other selection – could have sworn I took a picture of the menu!

And here is the buffet bar…

Pretty comfortable – and my “office” in the lounge:

Did I mention free mix your own drinks and wine. Feeling no pain on the flight home even though I was in 6D.


Comments Off on Trip Report: Quick Trip To Berkeley

Feb '15

Trip Report: Bay Area — Part Two

Slept late, then went for the Owner Update in the Shark Tank — $75, a big glossy hardback book of all the resorts in the system, and a fairly lame lunch. And thirty minutes longer than advertised Man did I need a drink after that!

Tonight’s excitement is dinner with Lunetta, Onyx, and Onyx’s old BF Caliph, starting with drinks at the Pied Piper Bar and Grill in the Sheraton Palace on Market Street:

Behind the bar is a huge Maxfield Parish mural of the Pied Piper leading all the children out of town:

Here is a great 2 minute (or so) video that is on the Palace website about the painting:

Many Manhattans with our appetizers of oysters (stunningly good with a little apple slaw and fish roe), cheese and fruit plate (how healthy!) and the calamari (very good, but not very healthy, but it did come with a squid ink dipping sauce.

And a photo of the boys, though not the best:

But it does give you an idea of the lobby.

Up the hill we went – back to the condo to order take-out for the real meal. That was my tab since Lunetta picked up the cocktails. Did I get a picture of the food – no. But I did manage to get one of the bar. The boys showed up with a couple of bottles of wine for dinner, and some bourbon for me to take back to Seattle:

Dinner was from Million Dollar Thai, which several days later I got a notice that I got miles for dining there – they are part of the Dining For Miles program. I picked them because they were in the resort handbook and they offered free delivery for orders over $25, which certainly wasn’t a problem with the four of us.

Another late night, but at least I have a late afternoon flight. Hung out in the condo until the noon checkout and then it was back on BART to the airport. And the final tourist shot – the entrance to Chinatown, just a block or so from the condo:

A light lunch at Chili’s Too (enchilada soup – perfect amount of food) and then it was back to my bulkhead seat in First Class. Even I’m amazed at my luck some time. $96.20 round-trip, and upgraded to first in both directions. The joys of travelling mid-week in the winter.

Another hard flight day.


Comments Off on Trip Report: Bay Area — Part Two

Jan '15

Trip Report: CanadaLand With The Boys (And A Little Girl)

This week’s adventure involves LOTS of people (well, for me). First through the door are Seth (31) and Maia (the little girl – 5½ years old). They drove up from Corvallis for our little adventure. Before long they set off for the airport to pick up Lunetta and Onyx who flew in from San Francisco.

Dinner for five – rib-eye steaks, saffron rice, salad, couple of bottles of Bonny Doon wine…rice instead of bread as I broke yet another bread machine a couple of weeks ago – probably should say “wore out” rather than “broke”.

And a good dinner it was…finding places for people to sleep was a little more problematic.

  • Maia in the single bed in the office so we could chat into the evening
  • Lunetta and Onyx in my bed
  • Seth and in in a double sleeping bag on the living room floor (until he couldn’t take it anymore and crawled in with the boys)

Up at 5am so we could get out of the house by six to catch our 8AM Victoria Clipper to Victoria, British Columbia.

At least it was a “pretty” early morning:

A pleasant trip north after a take-out breakfast at the Clipper Café (who also does the catering for the boat as well), though I’ll admit to sleeping through most of it – even forgoing my usual mimosa.

Wrangling a child means you are the last people off the boat and near the end of customs/immigration – which went smoothly as I’d warned Seth that he needed at a minimum a letter from Maia’s birth mother authorizing taking her out of the country. Seth made EXTRA sure and brought the custody agreement with him. Good boy.

Walked to the WorldMark Victoria, expecting to stash are luggage because it was noon, and check in is 4PM. To our surprise, our unit was ready – which rarely happens that early, but often does more in the winter than summer. Dumped everything in the room and headed out to Moka for Grilled Ham and Cheese with Potato Soup – seriously, we all got the same thing (limited menu). Thanks Lunetta for treating!

After the early morning, it was nap time for Maia, Onyx and myself – we send the engineers to the store for supplies that we didn’t bring. I’d packed:

  • 4 racks of lamb
  • 2 packages of shrimp (meant to bring the white fish to be breaded with the Panko, except for Maia who would get corn meal)
  • 2 cubes of butter
  • 1 pound of bacon
  • Artichoke Bruschetta
  • Cornichons
  • Corn and Bean Salsa
  • Panko Breading
  • The WorldMark Bag (pre-packed olive oil/balsamic, curry, brown sugar, flour, skewers, birthday candles, McCormicks Steak Seasoning, coffee meat rub, Korean hot sauce, etc.)

But you also need:

  • Salad (and dressing)
  • Bread
  • Eggs
  • Mixers
  • Cheese
  • Gluten Free Crackers (Maia goes bi-polar when she has gluten)
  • Corn Chips
  • Portabellas (to stuff with the Artichoke Bruschetta and top with the Panko Breading)
  • Etc.

Of course when you sent two engineers to the store, you get MANY more things in addition to those on the list. Take the generic category “Mixers”. They came back with:

  • 12-pack of Tonic
  • 12-pack of Diet Ginger Ale (mostly for me)
  • 6 pack of tiny Cokes
  • 100% Cranberry Juice
  • Handful of limes

Why so much? Did I mention what we picked up at Duty Free on the boat?

That would be 4 liters of hard liquor for a party of 9 adults tonight and 4 adults for the second night – and those Canadians like to drink hard at Duty Free prices ($85 for all four). And the guests are showing up with wine to go with dinner. And what a dinner it was:

In the foreground, the racks of lamb, Then the Stuffed Portabellas – which were a HUGE HIT, not just with the Vegetarian and Vegan guests (one each). For Maia it was an “adult night” when she was allowed to stay up until she collapsed.

Good food, good conversation (though not around the dining tables since it seats 6, not 10), good hot tubbing after dessert (thanks RobinHood and CrowDog!)

A late night, but luckily not an early morning – Seth was reading the schedule I sent out a laughed when he got to the first morning there, where it said brunch at noon:

The Boys Go To Victoria 




Seth arrives at UncleMarkies



Lunetta and Onyx arrive at Sea-Tac. Seth picks them up


UA 492 









Out of the house



Check in and grab breakfast at the Clipper Café



Clipper leaves for Victoria



Order Mimosas and Duty Free 



Clipper arrives Victoria



Out of customs/immigration 



Drop bags at condo and roam the city like a pack of dogs


Or grocery shop for the items we didn’t bring 



Check in at the condo — 


Could be early, they will have my number 



Cocktails with RobinHood, CrowDog, Royce, Kyle, + 1



Dinner with same Royce = vegan)



Hot-tub Party 



Sleep in, make brunch, explore 









Hot-tub Party 






Check-out, leave bags at desk 



Check in for Clipper to Seattle



Boat leaves



Order cocktails and Duty Free 



Clipper Arrives Seattle



Pick up car from garage and head home






Late Dinner if we didn’t eat on the boat 



Cocktails with Bliss



Dinner with same Royce = vegan)



Boys Uber to the Airport



Lunetta and Onyx fly home


Yep, guess that makes me anal retentive in my planning – but that’s how it worked out.

The boys and Maia set out to explore the city while I stayed home for some quiet time (much needed after all the excitement). My job was to fill in the gaps in the night’s meal (smoked fish, more cheese, and chocolate) and to grab a little lunch snack for me at the food truck in front of “Finest At Sea” a local fish wholesaler that has a small retail shop in the back:

I got the special – three rockfish cakes with hot dipping sauce. I had one, saved the other two to share with tonight’s pupu platter. After the shopping, NAP TIME!

Tonight’s menu (after the pupu platter):

  • Curried Shrimp Skewers
  • Salad
  • Bread (not for Maia!)
  • 3 bottles of various BC Red Wine

Life is HARD on the road.

And before you knew it, it was time to check out – this is what we put in storage since the boat doesn’t leave until 5PM:

Not like we pack light. The plan for today:

  • Store luggage
  • Head to the Royal BC History Museum and watch an IMAX film (mostly to entertain Maia)
  • Have lunch
  • Go to the boat

Here is a great picture of Seth after the movie (in the gift shop):

Lunch was at Santiagos, which is close to the ferry terminal (though we had to backtrack to grab out luggage). I’ve eaten here often because they always have muscles on the menu, AND they have HUGE drinks by Canadian standards, and cheap ($11) – again, but Canadian standards.

I had the Thai Mussels, Seth and Maia the HUGE nachos, Lunetta and Onyx the Ceviche and the quesadilla. We ended up taking a bunch of the nachos for the boat trip home.

Did I mention the pitcher of Sangria? And my favorite shot of the lunch:

Yes, they supply crayons, which was great for entertaining Maia.

Got to the terminal later than I wanted, but we were already checked in and had our boarding numbers, it was just the line to check in luggage that was a pain. And luggage we had – four checked bags.

But we did get a table for all of us. Here is Seth sating his Solitaire addiction:

Technically that’s 8 seats, but on the inner section so less coveted.

Three hours later and the last people through customs and this is the scene:

Four and a half people and their crap in a Saab. Tight quarters, luckily for only 20 minutes.

Once back to the house, an exhausted Seth and Onyx claim the big bed, Maia in the small one, and the Marks (Lunetta and UncleM) on the floor after staying up for hours beyond the others.

Seth /Maia/Lunetta/Onyx were out of the house before I was up – Seth /Maia headed home and dropping Lunetta/Onyx at the Rental Car Center at Sea-Tac to pick up a car for the overnight.

Work until 4:30 for me, then back to the house to prepare dinner for the boys, Bliss and myself for the final night of the CanadaLand holiday. Tonight’s menu:

  • Little lamb chops (LOTS of them)
  • Salad
  • A Spanish Red

After another late evening – it was time for me to head to a real bed, albeit a tiny one in the office.

I was out of the house for work before the boys were out of bed, feeling a little spent. While fun, it wasn’t one of the more “relaxing” holidays I’ve had recently.


Comments Off on Trip Report: CanadaLand With The Boys (And A Little Girl)

Dec '14

Status Report: More Travel Plans – Dinner With Friends – How I Spend A Couple Of Weeks At Home.

A couple of weeks at home (working lots, though) and its dinner with friends and succumbing to the joys of Cyber Monday. Here is a quick photo round-up of the last couple of weeks.

Before Turkey Day it’s a visit from friends returning from Hawaii and New Zealand and Roxy out of college (Evergreen) for Turkey Day Break:

And the return of a long lost (OK, only three years) piece of artwork – the Legs of Christ but David Best (best known for making the structures at Burning Man that get torched):

The Legs of Christ would be on the left, and weighs about a hundred pounds and comes with a box of parts. Here is it in its original state (from the Butterfield and Butterfield auction catalog in the supporting AIDS benefit in the 80’s which I tried to find the catalog for – it’s somewhere in boxes of books in the garage)


As you can see, the man on the top, along with the canes, and the fish at the bottom are now in a box below the painting. Another dinner had the arrival of a friend of Roxy’s who actually knows David Best, as does one of my contractors. Sorry, no pictures, but suffice it to say I ended up with a Malaysian couchsurfer in my bed in the morning. A first (bedding a couchsurfer). Sorry, no pictures – check back for and update of the evening – he took lots of pics.


And then we are at Thanksgiving…I worked the 11-3pm shift at the shop (http://www.madronawinemerchants.com) and then it was off to dinner at Swanda’s place, and here was the spread:



Several miscues on dinner – turkey cooked upside down (damned moist) and the combined Green Bean/Yam Casserole (it was supposed to be two different dishes, but still worked).


My response to the excess of Turkey the following day was just a Ribeye Steak and a Wedge Salad:


With the trip to Detroit and Santa Fe coming up, it’s time to start wrapping presents – it’s nice to be able to print your own wrapping paper, albeit on bright yellow paper with an image of a late seventies world map…

Saturday brought around me at work, closing the shop, and the annual Shop Small Saturday from AMEX which this year give you back $10 for each $10 you spend at three different small merchants on the Saturday after Thanksgiving… I spent it at St. Clouds:

Manhattan (2), with the cheese burger with Mexican Cheese and a Green Chili Aioli and swapped the fries out for a fresh Caesar that you could actually taste the anchovies in! GREAT.

Dinner with SalamandarHellbender on Sunday – had to send him home in an Uber as it was late and seriously COLD in Seattle. Really nice lamb chops:

And Alaska Air started their “Cyber Monday” fares at 4PM on Sunday so chock up two more (ignore Spokane, I booked that for SalamadarHellBender). Think I’m taken care of this winter for travel:

I still have two mid-weeks in February. There are two trips that aren’t on here, late January in Victoria with Lunettaand Onyx, and late February again in Victoria that I’m looking at partners for.

Monday’s project was an alcohol Menorah – keep in mind that there will be bottles on each side of the display I created since it’s nine candles/bottles for Chanukah, but only seven for the temple:

At the shop it will have nine bottles of Kosher Wine. The shop was so cold I had to come in the house and varnish the piece because my fingers were numb – not a good thing when working with power tools.

Dinner with Jonathan – another food fest – cranking up three burners on the Wolf:

50% off Safeway T-Bones on the left, asparagus center, carrots sautéed in butter, triple sec and fresh squeezed orange juice.

Black Olive Challah (with a Bloody Mary Ceviché in the small bowl next to the butter)….

And Jonathan who has his first shift as a UPS Driver Assistant in the morning. No, he isn’t having any of my wine! His is Caffeine Free Diet Coke…in a wine glass.

A crazy day at the shop today…the first work day of the month is running all the wine club sales…manually. We don’t store our customer’s credit cards electronically.

Dropped wine off with Swanda (two cocktail delivery fee, often times dinner, but not tonight as I didn’t get off until 7 and it was almost 8 by the time I arrived) and home for another steak and salad dinner.

And tomorrow it’s back in the freezing garage to build some more storage for the shop – that and the dentist (thank goodness they use Nitrous when they clean my teeth).


Comments Off on Status Report: More Travel Plans – Dinner With Friends – How I Spend A Couple Of Weeks At Home.

Jun '14

Trip Report: The Coast Starlight From Los Angeles To Seattle.

The third and final train trip in this month’s rail adventures – The Coast Starlight.

Arrived 15-20 minutes late on The Southwest Chief – unshowered and unshaved but at least my teeth were brushed. First stop…wait for it….The Metropolitan Lounge on the second floor of Los Angeles’ Union Station.

This lounge has only been open since December of 2013 when I was through on my way back from Santa Fe – when it still smelled new. It’s sort of hard to find…to the right of ticket counter and left of the Hertz desk, then up an elevator and then to the left. Signage is a little lacking.

Plain from the outside:

Snazzy on the inside:

Juice, soda, coffee, espresso, sweet rolls, and a conference room with this really great photo of the previous era Coast Starlight:

Craig and I track side for one of the best “Platform Memories” yet – well, the photo is the best quality – and I should be as he’s a professional photographer.

We got to hang out for twenty minutes or so – and I got to give him a tour of the sleeper car. He wants and invitation the next time I want company on a train trip.

First order of business – even before the train left the station was a shower. I really should have done it on the Southwest Chief, but live and learn:

It much easier to shower when you aren’t bouncing off the wall of a moving train.

Greek Salad for lunch in the Parlour Car (this one from 1956) which alternative dining option to the Dining Car. Much more limited menu, but you generally don’t have sit with other people though not in my case as there was another single dinner – so much for my plans for reading USAToday while I ate.

Spent the afternoon working on the Southwest Chief post, jotted down a couple of ideas for future posts on weeks I’m not travelling. So much for getting anymore of the book I started on the airplane completed. The book (Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness) is the required reading for all incoming Evergreen Students for the fall semester. Yesterday I took one of those silly FaceBook quizzes on what your spirit animal is…and I got crow. Go figure.

I took dinner in the Parlour Car as well, with the same single gentleman as at lunch – and with each interaction it’s feeling odder and odder. It doesn’t help that his roomette is right across the hall from mine.

The main reason for the Parlour Car again for my meal was the Red Wine Braised Lamb Shank – which I’ve had before, and liked enough to track down the recipe which I posted in a previous entry. LINK.

The lighting is a little funky, but you get the idea. Luckily my “less than ideal” dining companion gets off at Sacramento around midnight.

After dinner I got text from Lunetta – apologizing that they wouldn’t make it to the platform (which I hadn’t expected they would) –his plane ran late, and he and Onyx were still at dinner. Nice of them t text – guess they enjoyed the last “Platform Moments”.

My last FaceBook post before I got out of range was “Bedtime For This Bonzo”.

After the weirdness of lunch and dinner I opted to have coffee and breakfast delivered to my room at 8am. How civilized. Mostly they provide this service for mobility limited people (like my mother who always gets the handicapped room downstairs) but anyone can request the service – though the last morning on the Southwest Chief you’d probably have to tip the room attendant in advance. But here was my breakfast:

Scrambled eggs, pork sausage patties, home fries (which I mostly didn’t eat – and I requested to biscuit/croissant either).

And for Swanda a “footie”…

For the rest of you a slightly maniacal “selfie”…

Had the burger (again) for lunch, again using Newman’s Own Two Thousand Island dressing as the “secret sauce”. Damn tasty, sorry, no photo – it disappeared too quickly.

At Eugene I texted the boys (Travis and Leo) saying the train was on time and that I was in Eugene:

Got a quick response back from Travis saying it was doubtful he was going to be able to make it after all. Sigh. Such a photogenic guy. And then Leo was stuck at the post office – a total bust for “Platform Memories” other than..

We were thirty minutes early into Portland, which means probably 30 minutes early into Seattle – meaning a compressed dinner schedule. I was surprised when I got a 6:20 reservation…the last seating.

I finally remembered to take a picture of their “Signature Cooked To Order Steak”:

Shared the table with a lovely couple from Stockholm who were headed to Seattle to catch the Norwegian Cruise Line boat to Alaska – thereby achieving their goal to see all 50 of the United States. How many citizens of the US can claim that. I can, but I’m definitely in the minority.

Caught a cab back from the train station and dropped off my Junior Conductor hat with Casey, one of the Evergreen Grad neighbors that moved in a couple of months ago – I think it looks better on him than me.

[217.6] Better than I was expecting – only a 3.8# weight gain after 5 days of 3-squares a day via Amtrak.

Feb '14

Non-Trip Report: Best Laid Plans

Well, this week was supposed to be a couple of nights in the Bay Area. There are a variety of reasons why it didn’t’ happen. A laundry list of things….

  • Lunetta (who I stay with) got the week wrong and is in San Diego all week
  • Onyx (partner of Lunetta) is having post-gathering fragility issues
  • Bonny Doon isn’t open Tuesday/Wednesday, not sure if I want the slog to get to Napa/Sonoma
  • Shop printer stopped working, part arriving, need to fix
  • It’s the end of the month and it’s wine club shipment time and Jim appreciates the help
  • I have 7 cases of wine under the table that needs running through the still
  • I’m headed to Turkey in three weeks for 10 days – and I have the first three days planned but not the trip to Romania
  • The house is a wreck from all the new printing equipment that arrived

One of the convenient things about being MVP Gold on Alaska is that you can cancel the trip and they just hold the value for you online – and it’ not like I won’t use it before November when it expires. Yes, I cancelled a trip that I’d already been upgraded to First Class on the way down.

I will miss the double EQM – but I think that offer is good through the end of the year. And airfares to the Bay Area are running at $138 mid-week.

So I’ve spent this week running the still and researching Turkey – asking any and all friends for assistance.

So far I’ve booked three night in Istanbul at the Ramada Grand Bazaar which gets me miles and I get 20% off lowest rack rate because of my WorldMark membership. Booked an airport transfer with them as well as I’ll be a bit groggy after the 21 hour trip.

I’ve been printing out various tourist maps on the printer that Josh helped me move into the office last night (no, the correspondence desk for visitors isn’t done yet, though the maps are lying on it):

And I’m working on the train itinerary:

The plan is to take the overnight train from Istanbul (Turkey) to Bucharest (Romania) and on the return stop for a night in either Sofia or Veliko Tornova in Bulgaria on the way back. More passport stamps!

Leave at 10pm from Istanbul, get into Viliko Tornova at 11:18, then into Bucharest at 6:30pm. In theory. Can’t book it other than at the train station so who knows whether I’ll get out on Friday the 21st… or beyond. I don’t fly back until the 27th so I have some time. I’d go hang with Zagreb and visit Obrad, but there isn’t really time.

Josh was over last night for dinner – and helped me move the laminator into the garage (because I don’t do that much laminating) and get the Big Ass Printer into the Printer Room/Guest Bedroom. I’m afraid it isn’t looking like there is room for the other large high-speed black and white printer in the garage:

It’s another couple of days of work to get the rugs back down (thinking of seeing if my carpet from Bodrum [Turkey] will actually fit). When I looked up Bodrum I realized I missed a whole bunch of stuff in my four hours in Turkey as part of a 2-week sailing trip around the Greek Islands with a bunch of old friends who ended up at Microsoft.

I have a couple of good pictures from this week that remind me of why I love living in the Pacific Northwest…

Driving with the top down… and Spring flowers…

They say snow this weekend – that would be MARCH in Seattle. That is soooooo wrong.

And in a final photo I’d like to say I actually got a REAL haircut, rather than just whacking at it in the bathroom….

But is he cutting my hair or inserting still parts into my brain – he looks so serious, I’m thinking still parts.

Sweet man who cuts hair for a great dinner.


Comments Off on Non-Trip Report: Best Laid Plans

Feb '14

Trip Report: Oregon

This week I’m off to Oregon for a couple of days – after dealing with cancelling my Microsoft Alumni Network medical insurance now that the Washington State Health Exchange has figured out what I deserve. I could have saved $375 if they’d gotten their act together in December. At least I’ll have MUCH cheaper coverage going forward. At least I saved almost $500 by protesting a damage claim by the Enterprise Rent-A-Car Bozeman unit. Me thinks they are looking to pimp out their cars before selling them… mine (see post) had almost 30,000 miles on it AND the inner side of the front tires were bald – bad alignment, previous wreck? It certainly wasn’t the vehicle I requested.

All that is water under the bridge – of which I’ll pass over many on my Oregon road trip to deliver the Winter Faerie Gathering directories to Breitenbush Hot Springs. Here is the route:

Lots of time on the freeway – 3 hours to Julian’s house, 2 more hours to the Breitenbush.

Left Seattle around 12:30 for a slow leisurely 10mph over the speed limit drive to Portland… but had to stop for lunch, then a Goodwill, gas… got to Portland a little before 4pm at the nephew’s place (after a further stop at the liquor store for more supplies – I only brought 6 liters of wine!)

I brought down salad fixing, four massive steaks:

Julian did a couple of additions – a marinated radish, red union, red wine vinegar salad topper (along with the feta crumbled and yellow pear tomatoes), and a stir-fry of zucchini, bell peppers and onions. Here is the radish dish:

These are REALLY tasty – try them sometime.

But before dinner could commence, we (Mark & Onyx, Seth, Julian, Me) had a craft project to do. Wine charms made from foreign coins Julian has collected in his travel and ring binders.


  • Pliers (to hold coin)
  • Drill with bit large enough for the ring
  • Leftover coins from foreign travel

I think they came out really good – might have to produce them for the shop!    

Pick your coin – get it drilled, apply. I actually think they would go through the dishwasher with no problem.

We were having too much fun and totally spaced on the after-dinner activity, going through Alan’s discarded shoes – two garbage bags full of lightly used 10-11 (Men’s) shoes. Damn.

Slept in on Wednesday morning until 10am… joy of joys… and slowly rambled out the door around 12:30 to grab lunch at The Fishwife – my North Portland favorite restaurant – for their $6 Daily Fish and Chips Special and a fresh-squeezed grapefruit mimosa (also $6). For $7 I could have gotten the Oyster Shooter/Bloody Mary combo. No Julian to join me – on Sunday he was sledding in the snow and pulled a Sonny Bono (sideways into a tree, though I think Sonny did a face plant – and now I read an article [looking for a link] that it wasn’t an accident, but I digress) resulting in some seriously bruised ribs.

Went back to the house for a bit – then a little before 2pm it was off to the Bush to deliver the directories for the Winter Gathering that JustJack, HisPartner, DancingBear, and I put together on the night before I left on this trip. Talk about cutting it close:

Here is the final result, first closed:

8.5×14 edge wire-o bound, vellum cover weight stock (translucent) with 60# Springhill Digital Gray for the interior pages.

Now open:

No other photo directory for the Gathering has looked like this. 8.5×28 when laid out open – and it reads from each direction signifying “no beginning and no end”. Though I haven’t talked about it no “call” to the Gathering has looked like it either – usually 4 pages or so, the one for this Gathering… 14 pages. MUCH on-line drama about “changing” the gathering. A better phrase would be, a different vision.

Got to the gathering a little before 4pm, shortly after my cabin-mates:

But the work wasn’t done yet – the QR’s (Queens Registrar) had more plans for the directory… double wrapped as scrolls with ribbons. That was the after dinner work. Don’t they look pretty in the wooden boxes I used to haul them south in?

All wrapped up scroll-like and ready to be delivered on the opening day of the Gathering.

The highlight of my night is a cuddle date with Seth before beddy-bye time, yes, I have a bit of a crush on him. I have a crush on him even though he has a 4-year-old wickedly cute precocious daughter.

Thursday morning was another luxurious morning of sleeping in – wish I’d just spent the night cuddling (don’t we all). Seems neither of us sleep apart all that well. Lesson learned.

Had lunch in the lodge:

Though it’s winter in this picture, it’s not this winter… add 18″ of snow. They almost cancelled the Gathering. But it does show the lodge where the meals are served.

A little after 3pm I was on the road home… just in time for hellish rush hour traffic, partly caused by a narrow 1-5 Bridge over the Columbia that Oregon and Washington are fighting over.

  • Washington State wants a bridge with light rail connecting Vancouver, WA to Portland, OR – the rail line already goes within ½ a mile on the Oregon side
  • Vancouver, WA (the city) has council members opposed to Light Rail
  • Both Oregon and Washington are having troubles passing bills to fund the bridge

Meanwhile – it takes me an hour and 15 minutes to get around the “ring road”.

Luckily at the north end is a Burgerville and a Safeway for groceries and gas. A nice Pepper Bacon Tillamook Cheeseburger and a glass of Merlot (yes, a burger chain that serves wine by the glass, at least at the Vancouver, WA location at the intersection of I-205 and I-5).

Finally home a little before 10PM – time to set the alarm to get up before 8 to take the Miata for new paws and an oil change.

Nice to be in my own bed tonight.


Comments Off on Trip Report: Oregon

Dec '13

RIP Michael

I got some bad news this evening. Another friend lost to depression. Michael’s roommate/ex-boyfriend called me tonight around 10pm with the news that Michael passed on Christmas day. Dylan came home to find him “asleep” in bed. When he went to wake him he discovered he was no longer with us. There will be an autopsy, but it being Christmas day I’m guessing an overdose of pills. Michael had been suffering with depression for the last handful of years – mixed with his alcoholism, it wasn’t a very pretty mix. Several of his close friends, including me, received morose late night calls from Hong Kong over the years.

I choose to remember him smiling and happy. This was from a trip to Hong Kong to visit him and his boyfriend Dylan:

The photo above was taken in March of this year at Steakhouse Lardos. It was on the first of my four trips this year to Hong Kong – the last one, a couple of weeks ago was to Macau since Michael and Dylan had relocated to the Bay Area for Dylan’s job at Google. As in Hong Kong, Michael struggled to get and keep copy editing jobs. His resume included the English language paper in Bangkok, the Everett Herald, and most notably, the Asian Wall Street Journal. With all print media cutting back, seems copy editing is going the way of the…. [fill in the blank].

Over the years I’d visited Michael when he lived in Bangkok, then Everett (Washington), then Hong Kong, vacationed with him in Phuket, gone with him to Hong Kong Disneyland. We had dinner a couple of months ago in the Bay Area with Mark and Onyx…and he wasn’t in the best of shape emotionally sorry to say.

My heart goes out to Dylan. He and Michael have had a rough patch for the last couple of years. It was their hope that the move to the states would make it easier for Michael to get a job so that they could start living apart. Seems the universe had other plans.

Tomorrow I’ll try and track down some pictures over the years.

There but the grace of the universe go I.

Until then.


Comments Off on RIP Michael