In the Book of Life, The Answers Aren’t in the Back

by Nancy Bestor

If you grew up reading Peanuts comic strips, or watching A Very Charlie Brown Christmas every single holiday season like I did, chuckI’m certain you’d enjoy the delightful Charles M. Schulz Museum, in Santa Rosa, California, just as much as I did.

I watched most of the Peanuts television specials, and clearly remember rooting for Charlie Brown to talk to the little Red Haired Girl, wishing he would get more valentines, wanting Linus to see the Great Pumpkin, and desperately wanting Charlie Brown to kick the football before Lucy pulled it away. Thus, on a visit to my nephew at Sonoma State, I dragged him and one of my daughters to the Charles M. Schulz Museum, because although they vaguely know about Peanuts, I knew that it was something I’m interested in, and let’s be real, it’s all about me.

snoopyThe museum opened 16 years ago in the hometown of Peanuts creator, Charles M. Schulz, and is home to several permanent exhibits including original Peanuts comic strips, other artwork by Schulz, and a recreation of his original studio. Some of the most interesting exhibits include Mr. Schulz’ high school artwork, which easily demonstrated his talent, as well as a bedroom mural, beautifully restored, which he painted in 1951 for his daughter in their Colorado Springs home. The mural features early Peanuts characters, including Snoopy on all fours.

Another great exhibit is a 22-foot high ceramic tile mural, created by Japanese artist Yoshiteru Otani, made up of 3,588 Peanuts comics. When viewed from a distance, the mural forms the image of Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown. When you get up close, however, you can read each strip. It is impressive.mural

We took a free 60-minute, docent-led tour that day, which I highly recommend. Our tour guide was able to tell us all sorts of interesting facts about Mr. Schulz, and let us in on some of the secrets behind his characters, many of whom were based on real life, including the little Red Haired Girl (whom Schulz may or may not have pined for). We also learned that in 1968, at the suggestion of a reader, Schulz introduced Franklin Armstrong, an African American character and friend of Charlie Brown.

The Peanuts comic strip ran from 1950 to 2000, with Mr. Schulz writing and illustrating every single strip, on average about seven strips a week. It’s a part of my childhood, kidsand if it’s a part of yours too, I’d suggest a visit to the Charles M. Schulz Museum the next time you’re in the Santa Rosa area.

Notes:

Museum admission is $12, but students, children, and seniors pay a discounted fee.

The museum is not huge, we spent about an hour and a half there, and saw most everything in the building. As mentioned in the story above, docents lead tours on a regular basis during open hours, and I highly recommend taking part in some or all of the tour.

 

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Got Trip Delay Insurance? Apparently, We Do!

by Robert Bestor

“Sometimes you’ve just got to suck it up and pay the last minute hotel fee.” That quote is from our August eNews and apparently it’s dead wrong. Well, at least in our case it is.

You may remember (if not, click here) that we recently got stuck overnight in San Francisco. Due to “weather,” we missed our Medford connection by 10 minutes and since it was late, we had a decision to make; sleep on the floor at SFO or book a last minute hotel room that was sure to be over-priced. We chose the latter (since we’re over 50) and forked out $180 for about five hours of fitful sleep on a lumpy bed.

Well, thanks to reader David S. of Los Gatos, CA, we now know that our Chase Visa MileagePlus Club credit card Screen Shot 2018-09-25 at 3.50.55 PMwould have reimbursed us up to $500 per ticket. Here is the info from the Chase website under “Trip Delay Reimbursement”:

If your common carrier travel is delayed more than 12 hours or requires an overnight stay, you and your family are covered for unreimbursed expenses made with your MileagePlus Club Card, such as meals and lodging expenses, up to $500 per ticket.

500 bucks per ticket!? Heck, we could have booked the Four Seasons.

To get the benefit you must make a claim to Chase within 60 days of the incident. Unfortunately we missed that deadline by about a week.

So do yourself a favor and review your credit card benefits package before your next trip. There might be something in there that you can use. I just did and am now pleasantly aware that our card also provides Baggage Delay Insurance, Lost Luggage Reimbursement, Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Travel Accident Insurance and more, including of course, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver Insurance. That last one I knew about!

Usually the large print giveth and fine print taketh away. Not in this case however. Next time we’ll know, and I’m sure we’ll book ourselves a sweet suite!

With Your Chrome Heart Shining in the Sun

I wouldn’t really call myself a “car person.” I don’t know much about Teslas, I don’t understand the difference between a V6 and a V8 (tomato juice?), and I am perfectly happy to ride in our minivan instead of our fancier Audi. That being said however, I don’t want to be driving around in a jalopy. And when I was in high school, I did own a classic German automobile. It was a snazzy 1977 red convertible Volkswagen Bug (those were the days). So when Bob suggested we visit the Mercedes-Benz showroom on our recent trip to Berlin, I was game. Spend a few minutes looking at fancy cars? Why not? Little did I know the showroom was three huge floors, with climbing walls, a restaurant, a coffee bar, and even a kids’ miniature race course.

The Mercedes-Benz showroom is indeed a car dealership, as there were people negotiating deals while we visited, but also a museum with stunning works of art, albeit mechanical ones. Cars range in price, with the least expensive (A and C class, apparently) on the lower levels, and the most expensive at the top. There are classic cars on display, and cars for sale priced in the 200,000 euro neighborhood. Cars hang suspended from the ceiling, and as you climb floors on the neon lit escalators you can soak in all the money that went into this extravaganza. It’s pretty fascinating actually. I guess it’s easier to sell really expensive cars when your showroom is a destination all by itself.

We appeared to be two of the only gawkers that day. Everyone else looked like they were working—trying to sell cars (although they never approached us, huh?), or buying. Then there was a birthday party going on at the race course, which features stoplights, a track with sharp turns, and Mercedes Benz bumper cars. Oh to be young.

Bob and I did have a conversation about what car we would buy if we were seriously shopping. He leans toward a Mercedes S class in a black matte finish, reminiscent of the Batmobile. I, on the other hand, see myself in a vintage baby blue Mercedes convertible, driving down the open road, radio blaring, with nary a care in the world. I’m pretty sure I don’t have grey hair in this scenario either.

It turns out I might just be a car person after all.

I Hitched a Ride with a Vending Machine Repairman

In news that can only be categorized as “extremely important,” the San Francisco airport recently came under twitter fire for (wait for it) a vending machine that sells down vests. Although it’s been in the airport for about a year, social media just caught wind of it, and SFO is being mocked for selling clothing from a vending machine. A spokesman for the airport says that the machine is doing more than $10,000 in sales per month, which is not too shabby if you ask me. Especially when you consider that a vending machine only takes up about 10 square feet of floor space and must have very low overhead.

I can’t say that I’m surprised however, as the company behind the machine is Japanese clothier Uniqlo, and if you’ve ever traveled in Japan, you’ll know that vending machines are all over the country, selling just about anything imaginable. They’re on well trafficked streets in big cities, and they’re in quiet residential neighborhoods too. We’ve seen everything from cold beer and hot coffee, to candy and toiletries, to warm corn chowder, canned carrots and tomato sauce, and even underwear. The advertising pictures on the machines are often just as entertaining as the items for sale. Take, for example, Tommy Lee Jones crying with a can of Boss coffee. Why? Who knows.

We also found ramen shops with vending machines right inside their front door, where you select and purchase your meal, and then hand a ticket that comes out of the machine to the cook. This way the cooks don’t deal with any money, just food!

Our first time in Japan we ate at such a noodle shop in Tokyo. It was quite a treat to try and figure out how the system works, then to play “what’s behind door number 3” as we guessed at which ramen dishes we might be ordering based on the Japanese characters next to each button. We were never sure of exactly which ramen we ordered, I can only report that they were both delicious.

One thing we did figure out was the number of “fire” symbols directly related to how spicy the dish was. That, by the way, is a universal symbol, that due to jet lag, sensory overload and the pressure of MAKING A DECISION in a very foreign and somewhat pressure-packed situation, we missed completely. We still refer to that meal as the time we each ordered a bowl of fire. Delicious yes, but also hellishly hot.

By and large, I like personal service when I shop. I hope so, because I’m in the retail business. But I also understand the idea of quickly being able to purchase items from a vending machine. I may never buy underwear (at least that’s the story I’m telling), but a soda or bottle of water, maybe. Especially when I’m in Japan, and if I can find Tommy Lee Jones shedding a few tears, even better.

 

Man, I Feel Like a Woman

by Nancy Bestor

Ninety-six percent of the time, I like being a woman. I like talking about my feelings. I like romantic comedies and chick lit. And I like the fact that I don’t like football one bit. But there’s about 4% of the time that I really wish I were a man. Ladies, I’m sure you get where I’m going with this. It’s when I have to use the restroom that I wish I was a man. You know, the whole peeing while standing up thing. Men are fortunate that they rarely have to sit or squat on a toilet. And they have little idea of just how good they have it. Am I right ladies or am I right?

I think of this when I’m using a cold restroom and the toilet seat is freezing on my behind. I think of this when I’m using a public restroom where the toilet is disgustingly dirty. I think of this when the line for the ladies restroom is five times as long as the line for the men’s restroom. And I think of this when I’m traveling in a country that still uses squat toilets. (I also think that I should have done more core workouts when I’m using a squat toilet, but that’s best saved for a blog about how I don’t exercise enough.)

I was reminded of this when Bob and I were in Amsterdam this past winter. You see, we were drinking beer in the afternoon. Now I don’t know about you, but when I drink beer in the afternoon (well actually when I drink beer anytime) I have to pee, quite frequently actually. And before we left the bar I did use the facilities. But then there we were, walking around the beautiful city, and I had to use the bathroom again. Bob too needed to use the restroom. And guess what we found? A public urinal, right in the middle of downtown Amsterdam. That’s right, Bob, being a man, was able to relieve himself just when he needed to (see the urinal in action in the photo at left). I, on the other hand, had to find a restroom in a grocery store. I don’t begrudge Bob. I don’t even begrudge the city of Amsterdam. The design of the urinal was quite ingenious, and it obviously didn’t take a lot of effort or money to install it on the city streets. I’m just taking this opportunity to complain about something loosely travel related that I can’t change, because what is a travel blog for if not an opportunity to share interesting travel stories complain?

There’s one country, and one country alone, that knows what women need when they’re using the restroom, and that’s Japan. Every time we’ve visiting Japan, I am happy to be a woman 100% of the time, and I thank my lucky stars that I can sit down on a public toilet and take advantage of the seat warmer, the music, the cleaning spray, and the blow dryer for the bum, to name just a few things. Surely Japan’s toilets were invented by a woman. If only every country, including my own, could adopt these toilets, then I could move onto more important travel blogging topics like who in their right minds would hang their toilet paper roll under vs. over?

Roadside Oddities of the American Southwest

by Robert Bestor

The arid, wind-swept expanses of the American Southwest are of course covered in awe-inspiring natural wonders. From the Grand Canyon to Monument Valley and from Arches National Park to Mesa Verde, seemingly around every bend, over every bluff and behind every tumbleweed, mother-nature’s biggest and best work, standing with head held high, chest filled with pride and a defiant chin, abounds.

In such a grandiose place it’s easy to feel small. Fortunately these wide-open spaces have attracted and inspired some big thinkers who in turn have dreamed up some the finest and funkiest of roadside attractions. On the long and lonely highways and byways east of Las Vegas we visited a few such oddities early this spring.

Double Negative

Other than what I find pleasing and what I find puzzling, I know little about art and art history. I am aware, however, that one of its biggest conundrums is its definition. What IS art? Well Michael Heizer’s Double Negative certainly had me pondering that very question. DSC09898Located an adventurous few miles down a rough gravel road atop Mormon Mesa near Overton, Nevada, Double Negative is pretty much a really big ditch. But I must admit, it’s kind of cool. One of the first “earthworks,” art that uses the earth as its canvas, Double Negative is simple and stark. At an impressive 1500 feet long, 30 feet wide and 50 feet deep, this example of “land art” amazingly feels scaled to its surrounding desert landscape. It’s definitely worth a detour if you are in the neighborhood. You can get there in a sedan but an SUV would be better. Just don’t drive off the edge of the mesa!

Directional Arrows

Another of our digressions as we sped east on US 15 came courtesy of the United States Post Office. With only somewhat handy GPS coordinates, we were able to locate a concrete airmail directional arrow IMG_6272just outside of St. George, Utah. Also known as beacons, these arrows are scattered about the country and guided airmail pilots before modern navigation systems came into use. Transcontinental Air Mail Route Beacon 37A is in excellent condition. It sits on a bluff on the outskirts of a housing development, just a short walk up what we nervously dubbed “rattle snake hill”, and also offers a tremendous view of the surrounding desert.

Little Hollywood

During the golden age of the Hollywood western, Kanab, Utah was a hub of film activity. Over the years, movie and television classics like Stagecoach, The Lone Ranger and El Dorado were filmed in the area. Most of what remains from that era can be found at Kanab’s Little Hollywood Museum and Gift Shop.IMG_6343 While the place is a little funky, tired and threadbare (kind of like me), its collection of movie sets evokes fond memories of gritty westerns and their heroes, villains, drunks, and innocent bystanders caught up in it all. On a hot afternoon it’s not to difficult to imagine Gary Cooper riding into town in search of a cool sarsaparilla, or Lee Van Cleef looking for some whisky and a little trouble to go with it. IMG_6340The museum is free so it’s definitely worth a stop and the gift shop has all you’d expect including cowboy boots, hats and shirts, and movie posters and Native American art. And if you really love it, it looks like the place, and everything in it, is for sale for a cool 2.85 million dollars. Hmm? Nancy and I do have retail experience……

The Answer My Friend, Is Blowing in the Wind

Bob and I travel a fair amount, and while we’ve endured many delayed flights over the years, we’ve never missed a connection. Until this Spring that is, when our flight out of Las Vegas into San Francisco was 55 minutes late. You’d think that wouldn’t be that long to mess everything up, but alas, it was. We had a 50 minute connection in San Francisco from our original flight arrival time until our flight to Medford was scheduled to depart. And, you guessed it, the Medford flight was right on time, and we missed our connection by about 10 minutes.enhance (1)

We were those people that ran over to our gate in the hopes we could still make it, only to find the ramp doors had been locked, and the plane had just pulled out of the gate. This was the last Medford flight for the evening, and, to compound things even further, the reason given for our delayed flight out of Las Vegas was weather. It wasn’t raining, it wasn’t snowing, and it didn’t even seem windy. But our flight was delayed because of weather. This meant we had to stay the night in San Francisco, and United would not compensate us because it was “out of their control.” They rebooked us for the 8am departure the next morning, and washed their hands of us, metaphorically speaking.

I tried to get some help at the customer service desk. Our plane had actually landed at SFO in time but then sat just off the gate in San Francisco for 10 or 15 minutes, waiting for another plane to head out. If we had been able to slide immediately in to our gate, we certainly would have made our connection. This too, according to United, was weather related. Planes leaving SF were backed up. Every plane except the one that was headed to Medford of course.

Bob in the meantime was logging in to www.hotels.com and www.hotwire.com, trying to find a nearby hotel at a reasonable price for a few hours so we could get some sleep. For future reference, when it’s 11pm and you need a hotel by the airport that evening, trust me when I say there are not many deals to be had. I think the hotels know they’ve got a hot buyer, and they’re apparently not going to offer any “we’ve got 50 rooms available and we’ll sell them at any cost” deals.

Our nearby room cost about $180 on hotwire, for five hours of sleep. This was a bargain based on the two hotels I called directly, who wanted to charge us $220. We considered “sleeping” in the airport, but we’ve done that before, and frankly, I’m getting a little too old for that nonsense. Sometimes you’ve just got to suck it up and pay the last minute hotel fee. We’ll never know what the “weather” was that delayed our flight, but it was totally out of our control. Apparently, it was totally out of United’s control too.