Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Abita Mystery House: Abita Springs, LA

My company conference always brings a little dread with it.  It is a long week of training and speakers and events where I am required to be present and "on" all day and most evenings.  This year, I left earlier than usual due to the venue.  Our event is in New Orleans this year and my cousin Dawn lives a short 3 hour drive away in Pensacola.  Last year when we were together in Florida, we decided that we needed to do a better job of seeing each other and this is our first attempt to make good on that promise.

I arrived at our hotel in the Garden District of New Orleans a couple of hours before Dawn.  This turned out to be a good thing as she got lost and I was able to direct her via a map on my iPad.  By the time she arrived it was getting near supper time so we walked to a nearby restaurant and called it a night.  The next morning, we made the drive across Lake Pontchartrain to Abita Springs and the Abita Mystery House.

This is not remotely similar to the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, CA.  This is more of an eclectic collection of items loosely organized to be a sort of strange and at time, macabre museum.  You can see anything and everything here.  There is one large building that contains most of the collection and then a few smaller buildings.  Even the buildings themselves are covered on the outside with signs, paint can lids, old curling irons...whatever was handy when that part was being done I suspect.

I think I will let the pictures (which are allowed) do the talking:

I need this sign.  I may have to make a copy.  Or crop this photo and frame it.

There were a huge number of these paint-by-number paintings everywhere, on the walls, ceilings...everywhere.

The sign above this diorama reads:  God bless our forefathers who fought in the Civil War so we could play Goofy Golf in peace.

This was one of our favorite dioramas.  I like the miniature Madonna in front of the trailer, Dawn likes the dead armadillo by the front of the truck.  This probably says a lot about our personalities.

The misnamed Macaroni Marble Machine.  It is made from wooden sticks, not macaroni.  Several of these had a button that activated the display.

Dawn and I took turns playing and cranking the two person organ.

The Shard House

Darrel the Dogigator

The 32 ft Alligator

This building was completely filled with various hot sauce bottles.

The Amazing Bassigator.  Half Bass (fish) half Gator.  All freaky.

You enter and exit the building through the gift shop.  Even in here there are a lot of unusual things to see.

Almost the entire ceiling is covered in computer components.

This should have been my first clue there would be even more strange creatures outside.  She wasn't for sale.  I checked.

This was really tempting.  I could have worn one each day of our conference.

I am really not sure why I didn't already own this and I know it will be one of those things I will be sorry I didn't buy.  Anyone looking for Christmas/Birthday ideas for me...take note.

Another contender.  I really should have bought this for my niece Ashley.  We had a whole thing with Chicken gifts going for a while.  I did find one thing I couldn't pass up on:

I initially bought this to send to my son.  However, the more I look at it, the more I think I might have to keep it and offer some to the person next to me at the airport.

I also had my fortune told.  This would be the first of three fortune telling events of the week. 

I wonder if the bike it is referring to is the one with the alligator seat.  I might be inclined to ride that one if I owned it but currently, I don't have a bike so this fortune is already sketchy.  I do like the idea about the crayons.  If I actually knew 64 people, I would be really tempted to do it.  Maybe I can scale it back to the box of 8 or 16.

This is quite likely the strangest "museum" I have been to thus far.  I did enjoy this place and at $3 the price was totally fair for the experience.  It was also nice that we were the only 2 people in the museum though there was a woman who tried to run me over with her car when we arrived.  She was in a big hurry and not happy that this place didn't open promptly at 10 am.  

I am fascinated by these kinds of places and how they get started.  Later, when Dawn and I were at a little antique store, I told her that going to places like the Mystery House makes me want to start something like that. I kept seeing things that could be the first item in my collection - like a creepy doll or a strange painting.  It could happen.  I just haven't found the exact right thing to start with yet.  I will definitely keep looking.

I was absolutely one of the changed.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Kennie & Grandma around town: Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, TX

My troubles in Texas didn't end after the fire.  The morning after the fire I woke up with a sore throat.  By the next day I knew I had a cold.  Having a head cold and sore throat when you are going to talk for 8 hours a day can be a problem.

Even though I have a cold, I am reluctant to change my dinner plans for Thursday night.  It has been a hard week and I am really looking forward to my dinner date.

That smile can fix anything.

Kennie, my granddaughter, and I have plans to go to Dave & Buster's for dinner and then to stay at the hotel before going to my parent's house for the weekend.  

Kennie knows exactly what she wants to have for dinner.  Course 1 is the milkshake, no hands or straws needed.

Course 2 is pasta...JUST pasta, grandma.  Don't put stuff on my pasta grandma.  The best part about being a grandma is not worrying about little things like Kennie's desire to suck her pasta up rather than use a fork.  We got a lot of comments on her "tattoos" over the weekend and her consistent reply was, "They are coming off because I have been taking baths at my daddy's house."  

Course 3, broccoli.  Kennie loves it.  It actually came with my meal but she ended up eating most of it.

Course 4, cherries.  Kennie charmed the waiter into giving her a cup of cherries after only getting one with her milkshake.

On to the games.  She had a hard time with skeeball.  When she finally got a ball to go all the way up the ramp, it was like she won the Olympics.

It's all about the tickets.  The nice lady behind the prize counter fudged her total just a bit to let her buy 2 items that she didn't quite have enough tickets for.  I spent $25 - not including dinner - for a Lik-M-Aid and a box of Nerds.  She was quite happy.

The next day, we head to my parent's home to attend my grandmother's birthday party.  That makes her Kennie's Great-Great-Grandmother.  Not a lot of people can say they had 5 generations around at one time.  I am not accustomed to corralling an almost 4-year old who wants her Texas-shaped waffle sooner than later while trying to pack.  I ended up leaving all of my pants and clean underwear in the drawer at the hotel. When I realize this later and call, they don't have them.  This necessitates a trip to the Parks Mall in Arlington, otherwise known as the Pit of Hell.

Since this was Easter weekend, I had a small basket for Kennie, including a chocolate bunny.  I promised she could eat it in the car.  I almost had a wreck when I turned and discovered this scene.  Calm down, I took this photo in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant where I pulled over to deal with the melted mess.

Kennie & I have tickets to see Winnie the Pooh at Casa Manana Theatre in Fort Worth with my mom, dad, niece & sister-in-law.  In keeping with the theme of "things that can go wrong, will", dad isn't able to make it home from work on time and we have to leave without him.

My oldest daughter was once picked on mercilessly by her cousins - including my niece on the far left of this photo - for being "different" or possibly adopted.  That meant she wasn't blonde and blue eyed like her three cousins, brother and sister.  I suddenly know how she feels though my mom's eyes are actually green.  

Grandma's party is brunch at the tearoom inside Decorator's Warehouse in Arlington, Texas.  I know the place only because my mom has mentioned how great it is before.

Kennie helps my dad load the presents in the car.

Decorator's Warehouse says they are "Texas' #1 Christmas Store".  I am still not prepared for what is inside.

Lots of giant Santa displays.

If I could fit him in my suitcase, he would be going home with me.

They carry Christmas Trees in every possible size, shape and color.  
"Let's buy this one Grandma!"

They also carry an extrordinary number of ornaments, wreaths and other decorations.  Kennie grabs a basket and starts to fill it.  We have 2 gingerbread people ornaments, a small nativity scene, and some hummingbirds on strings.

There was one more possible purchase...

She didn't get the hat because the only ones with batteries were the displays.  She wanted it to work "NOW".  We had one other possible taker in the hat department.

I know it is only Easter but I am suddenly ready for a Happy, Happy Christmas!  All of these people also make everything that happened this week totally worth the trip.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

This is NOT a Drill: Frisco, TX

Some trips get off to a bad start.  This was one of those and it didn't improve much as the week went on. 

I am about to leave for the airport, in fact, I already have my keys in my hand, luggage is by the front door.  I turn and notice the red light on my work phone is on, indicating I have voicemail.  This is annoying for two reasons.  One, I just put my phone on "do not disturb" less than 10 minutes ago after a quiet morning with no calls and two, my voicemail clearly states that I am not going to be in the office all week.  I almost left without checking it.

It turns out to be the hotel I am supposed to check into later that day.  "Do you know a Marie that works at your company?"  I tell her yes.  The woman on the phone cheerfully tells me, "Well, we have a customer who just extended their stay and, as you know, we are an extended stay hotel!"

Okay, I think someone is confused and it isn't me.  An extended stay hotel means that you can stay there for an extended period of time.  It does NOT mean that you can randomly extend your stay when the hotel is full.  The hotel wants Marie and I to share a 2 bedroom suite.  This is a hot issue for a lot of people, including me.  I do not want to share a room with my co-worker.  It doesn't matter that we are both girls or that we like each other.  I don't need to see Marie's pajamas and more important, she doesn't need to see mine.  I don't need to know the ins and outs of her bathroom habits.  I couldn't work for a company that requires its staff to share rooms.  It isn't natural.  I barely let David know my bathroom habits and he and I have been married 26 years.

But now I feel pressure...what did Marie say I ask?  "She said it was okay with her it if it was okay with you."  Crap.  I ask if we have our own bathrooms and am assured we do.  Two bedrooms, both with a door and a private bathroom.  If I have to share, this is the only way I will do it.  They offer to keep our rate the same as the individual rooms we would have had, saving the company money and to throw in some bonus Hilton Honors points.  I still would prefer my own room but I agree to share. 

Living in a small community, I can't fly direct to very many places.  I usually fly to Salt Lake City and occasionally Denver or Minneapolis.  On this flight, in SLC I take my aisle seat and start reading.  A couple comes to take the middle and window seats.  The woman slides across dragging my seatbelt with her.  She doesn't notice.  I try to pull it but it won't come out.  I finally have to ask her to let me get it (this happens again when she goes to the bathroom during the flight) and she lifts her butt to the side so I can reach under.  Eeww.  I get settled again and start hearing a distinctive popping sound.  I look over and the woman is flossing her teeth.  I don't mean using a toothpick either.  She got out a roll of dental floss, pulled some off, wound it around her fingers and went to town.  This is quite possibly the most disgusting thing I have been subjected to on an airplane up to now (the vomiting teenagers on the plane from DC is a close second).  Even the man with her says, "Are you through flinging your food particles everywhere?" 

He wants to get on with their card game.  She can't remember the rules from one hand to the next.  He keeps looking at her cards and telling her what to bid and explaining the rules again.  Her giggling get on my nerves quickly and I find that the headphones I brought aren't working.  Two and a half hours of her flossing and giggling and I am ready to freak out.  AND no snacks on this leg of the trip because one of the passengers has a peanut allergy so severe that no one on the plane can have them or anything that could have traces of them, and don't eat what you brought with you (like the turtles in my purse) for the same reason.  I am not sure how this person is not at home living in a bubble.

Fortunately (for me and Marie), Marie is not there when I get to the hotel.  I get a little quiet time and some food before she arrives around 9:30.  I have to let her in because her keys aren't working.  We chat a little and go to our separate rooms to bed.  I turn off the lights at about 11:15 pm.

Just as I am drifting off, the smoke alarms go off.  I am disoriented at first but collect myself enough to get some pants on, grab my sweater, the keys to my rental, and my cell phone, all of which are on the other unused bed in my room.  I can't find my room keys.  Normally I leave them right with the car keys but this time I didn't.  I open my door and Marie is there.  I tell her I can't find my room keys.  She can't find her car keys.  We take her room keys (which we know don't work) my car keys and head out.  There are a number of people in the hall (we are on the first floor) and we join them in exiting the front of the hotel.

This isn't the first time this has happened to me.  It is the 5th.  Smoke alarms happened while I was in Memphis, Houston, San Antonio, Navarre FL, and at my daughter's house (which I blogged about last year).  Two of these were false alarms, three were not, including the one at my daughter's.  And once I set them off at my house when I came out of a particularly hot bath and walked under the alarm while I still smoldering so that makes 6.  That doesn't include the various times they went off at my parents house when I lived at home or the time my three kids made them go off trying to make maps using notebook paper and a barbecue lighter while I was at work.

The point is you don't know if it is a false alarm or not.  Maybe the fact that my dad was a fireman when I was young makes a difference but I always get up and leave the room/hotel (except at my daughters when the fire was quickly extinguished although I did eventually leave and go get us McDonald's with our breakfast now in ruins). 

Dad and me at the fire station.  This is not a "real" picture, it is a Photoshop version of two photos.  This photo originally only had my dad in it.  There was a second photo of me using the same angle where I am sitting on the racks where they dry the hoses. I simply put me in the one of him.

In Houston, which wasn't a false alarm, I was one of only 2 people who left the hotel.  There was a man on the 8th floor (same floor I was on) in the window watching us in the parking lot.  I guess it was too inconvenient for him walk down all of those stairs.

It is cold out this time so Marie and I go to my rental car and get the heat going.  The strobes and alarms are still going strong.  Then the first fire truck shows up. 

I tell Marie, "This isn't a false alarm."  A fireman walks up to the front door and immediately comes back, speaks to two other firemen and they suit up in full gear, including oxygen masks and tanks. 

Definitely not a false alarm.  A second fire truck comes.

Truck #2

Marie and I sit in the car discuss a variety of things like the merits of particular 80s songs for karaoke and the fact that the crowd milling around outside includes some of our customers.  Customers neither of us have ever met before.  Customers we would rather not meet while in our pajamas. 

When they finally let us back in, people on the first three floors can return to their rooms.  People on the 4th floor aren't so lucky.  We learn the next day that a man on the 4th floor was cooking beans in his room (these rooms have small kitchens).  I want to know what kind of a fool is cooking beans on the stove at nearly midnight in a hotel?  Probably the same fool who extended his stay forcing Marie and I to share a room!  Several other suggestions were made - drunk or stoned or both were the primary guesses.  This is bolstered when the front desk tells us that the man was AWAKE AND STILL IN HIS ROOM when the fireman knocked on the door. 

Marie and I are forced to stand in line at the desk because I don't have my room keys - a fact I know my dad will not appreciate when he hears it - and Marie's don't work.  While we wait and watch the fireman wrap up their time here there is a particularly unhappy looking woman next to us with her luggage.  She had the unfortunate luck to arrive during the fire.  And of course, she is one of my customers.  I introduce myself while standing in the lobby in my pajamas, braless, shoeless and makeup-less.

On the last day of training, the smoke alarm goes off right before lunch.  We are not a happy group, most of us having been through the first event just a few nights before.  It quickly stops.  Then goes off again.  I go to the front desk.  They are replacing a part and it is malfunctioning.  The front desk assures me they will come get us if something happens.  I break for lunch, it is hard to talk over the alarm (which goes off a total of 4 times that afternoon).

A cousin wrote on Facebook that the alarms at her office went off today and she didn't want to go outside.  ALWAYS go outside.  I know my dad could probably tell horror stories about people who were hurt or even died because they couldn't be inconvenienced to go out or didn't believe it was a real fire.  More than half of the alarms I have been through at a hotel were caused by real - although small - fires. 

Go outside, do it for me.  I'll be there in my pajamas, waiting for you.