Tuesday, October 30, 2007

3,000 Miles Around Graceland

Part 1 - Road trip.
Saying those words can spark a wide variety of emotions. In college a friend and I would jump in his red Ford Probe and just take off to where ever the gas tank would
take us. Road trip meant freedom and fun. But I also think of the first year of college driving back and forth to school for a year and a half. 60 miles round trip. Road trip meant monotony and tired butt.

So when I suggested a road trip for our family vacation this year, I entered into that idea with the full range of emotional awareness of what that would include.
Originally we had planned on driving to the west coast. I have family in Las Vegas we were going to see. We also talked about getting a Disney fix at the original park, Disneyland Resort. But “the Plan” never seemed to come together. It wasn’t clicking.
Then one day I had a moment of inspiration.

Lisa had already concocted a weekend trip to Hot Springs. I really couldn’t justify in my mind a mini-vacation to Hot Springs and then another trip to the west coast. So my inspiration was to continue past Hot Springs and take in some Southern states. We could meet Disney friends along the way. We could see sights that we might not ever go see. And we could experience some non-structured vacation time. No plans, just a direction. No objective, just destinations.

So we non-planned and saved. We knew where we were headed but not what we were going to do. We took possession of a “new” vehicle for our over the road travels. We also stocked up on AAA Travel Books and maps. And we prepared to set out on our trip 3,000 miles around Graceland.

Part 2

The title of this little trip report is inspired by a movie (that I have never seen) entitled 3,000 Miles to Graceland. It stars Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell. I have no idea what it is about. But I think it has something to do with bank robbers dressed as Elvis. I don’t have a clue.

The purpose of the title is that we knew if we were going to be going through the South and we were beginning with Hot Springs, then Graceland was a definite stop we would have to make. And the entire trip, calculated by Google Maps, was roughly 3,000 miles.

Lisa was ready to go before she went to work on that Friday. I, on the other hand, was a little behind the curve on that. When she got home from work, I wasn’t really ready to load up and go. I still needed a shower and to load the truck up. But those minor details were easy enough to deal with. We were on the road and headed to Hot Springs.

You may be wondering, as I was, “Why Hot Springs?”. The answer is that it was the most interesting location that Lisa could find between Claremore and Memphis. And Lisa had planned a meet with one of our Disney friends. This is a lady whom Lisa has been chatting with online and on the phone for about a year.

Tink (it is not her real name; it is her Disney handle) is a Cajun in exile. She grew up in the New Orleans region of Louisiana. But because of Katrina’s insistence on disturbing people’s lives, Tink has moved out of the holy land. Lisa planned on connecting with TInk and her family in the Hot Springs area. She selected a condominium in Hot Springs Village and booked us a couple of nights. Then she let Tink know where and when so they booked as well. Our families would meet and spend a couple of days getting to know each other in the beauty of central Arkansas.

We headed to Hot Springs with everything and everybody comfortably packed into our new truck. Lisa wanted a vehicle bigger than our Taurus. She originally looked at a minivan. But she was open to an SUV as well. So I had compared vehicles and knew about what we could afford. Then Lisa one day made the mistake of saying that a pick-up was acceptable. WELL hot dog!! Now we’re talking. I knew exactly what to look for. So now Lisa has a white Chevy Avalanche to drive around. It’s big enough for our stuff and it is comfortable enough to drive miles and miles.

That truck has the power and pick up to handle the highway and the hills/mountains. It is a smooth ride and has plenty of room for the boys to not have to be hanging on each other. It does not, however, keep them from exploding all of their personal trip paraphernalia all over the back seat. From the time they get in to the time to get on the interstate, those boys had everything out of their bags and piled deep in that back seat.

It also does not have anti-motion sickness compensators in the back seat, as Nick found out about in the mountains of Arkansas. And the back seat floorboard found out soon after that.

Part 3
After dealing with Nick’s little problem and Andrew thinking he would contribute to the problem, we rolled into Hot Springs Village and our home for a few days. It was a beautiful little split level house on a little lake. It had two bedrooms, two enclosed porch rooms, and a hot tub. We saw that Tink and her family had also arrived. So after we unloaded, we went down to their house to meet.

We shared greetings and hugs. Then we showed each other our homes.
Tink is quite the chef. She loves to cook. And when she found out that I like Cajun cuisine, she wanted to know what I wanted to eat. That night we were having shrimp boil. That’s shrimp, small potatoes, corn, and sausage boiled with seasoning. It is normally eaten spread out on a table covered in butcher paper, newspaper, or garbage bags. You eat with your hands. We were more civilized. We used plates.

After desert and goodnights we turned in for the night. Because the next day was a work day.

Part 4
Lisa found out about the Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro, Arkansas. Crater of Diamonds is located on the remains of an ancient volcano. When the volcano had erupted it pushed minerals up to the outer crust of the earth. Among the minerals is diamonds. Crater of Diamonds is the only working public diamond mine in America. Lisa thought this might be a fun activity for our families. We packed our shovels and prepared to dig for a while.

Somehow it escaped Tink’s thought patterns that digging for diamonds would be true work. She wasn’t sure she would get into this dirt and heat. And she didn’t. But we enjoyed giving her a hard time about it. We stuck it out for a little less than 1 ½ hours. Then we had to find air conditioning and iced tea. We drove back into the little town and found Cheryl’s. It was a tasty little diner.

We drove back to Hot Springs and the condos. The night’s plan was for crawfish etouffee. Tink searched high and low for crawfish and finally found it. Etouffee is not an instant meal. So we were set for a long evening of lots of stirring and simmering and waiting. But it was well worth the wait. That was some good stuff.

I had to take Andrew back to the house early. He kept falling asleep on Tink’s bed. But it was 10:00. So it wasn’t really early.

Part 5
Sunday morning was really low key. We were planning on packing up the vehicles and heading back to Tink’s house. We did plan on stopping for breakfast. That was the plan.

We got both vehicles loaded up and set out to find breakfast. We drove out of Hot Springs. And through Little Rock. And after a couple of hours on the road it was realized that the restaurant where we wanted to stop was not on the way. We should have taken a right turn at Albuquerque.

So we found a little roadside diner. We JUST made it in time for breakfast. Pancakes is my choice in a place like that. Usually because then can’t get it wrong. Andrew joined me with flapjacks. Nick, on the other hand, wanted biscuits and gravy. He can put away the biscuits and gravy. He can shame me when it comes to eating that dish. So that’s what he ordered. An adult plate of biscuits and gravy. A couple of the others ordered breakfast platters. The waitress had to come back out and tell us that there were only 6 biscuits left in the restaurant. Fortunately Tink’s family was gracious and allowed Nick his plate.

We got back on the road and set course for Memphis. Not far along the road and I saw the Tinkmobile pulling off on the side of the road. We pulled in behind to see what was the matter. Potential blow out was the matter. One of the tires had tread separating. So it was flat fixing time.

In no time at all, the tire was changed and we were back on the road.

After an uneventful rest of the journey, we arrived at their home. After the grand tour Nick promptly asked if they were rich. He thought it looked like a rich person’s house.

We settled in for the evening. Cooking out with steaks on the grill. Wii played some Wii. And we chatted. A lot. Tink has a warm and inviting home. So we had a wonderful visit.

And I want that bed that we slept in. It was the most comfortable mattress I have ever slept on.

Part 6

We said our goodbyes the next morning. We were headed out, but the Tink’s had to go back to work. So we got the boys around, loaded the suitcases, and got ready to load the truck. I hauled a couple of suitcases out and got ready to load them up into the truck. I have a thing about neat packing. I cannot stand an untidy cargo space. So I knew how I wanted them loaded up into the truck. I put one of the bags up into the truck and was going to push it farther toward the cab. When I did I experienced something that I hope to never experience again.

You have heard of people getting hit on the head and seeing stars? When I pushed the suitcase forward, I bent over the tailgate and shoved hard. When I did, I didn’t see stars. I saw a supernova. Quickly followed by a pain in my lower back like I had never felt before. I stood up, and that was all she wrote. I couldn’t take a step without excruciating pain. I couldn’t bend over. All I could do was stand there propped against the tail gate.

Lisa came out and asked me something. I told her, with as much of the pain as I could, that I couldn’t move. I think she got mad at me.

But for all of the pain I was in, the truck still needed to be loaded. So I was able to lie down in the bed of the truck and move the suitcases into place. But walking was not a pleasant experience. And we still had to go to Graceland.

I told Lisa she would have to drive. I gave her directions and we got to Graceland without any problems. But when we got into the parking lot, I couldn’t take three steps without having to stop and find a support. I didn’t think I would be able to go through Graceland. We all got back in the truck and Lisa dropped the boys and me at the entrance. She parked again and we all went in.

Lisa said if nothing else I could sit in the ticket place while they went. Well, I didn’t want to miss Graceland. We got tickets and got in line for our tour. My back was still hurting, but it seemed that the pain was backing off. Definitely no more supernova going off in my head. But much of that day is hidden in a haze of pain.
I remember a lot of the tour. It had been 20 or so years since I had been to Graceland. The last time I went, they had tour guides. Now they give you a set of headphones attached to a prerecorded tour. We saw all of the kitsch that was Elvis. And Lisa got some decorating ideas for our house.

No, seriously. She did.

Nick was loving every minute of it. He likes Elvis. So this was a treat for him. Andrew was just along for the ride. Nick especially liked the house and the stuff. He wasn’t too thrilled with the gold and platinum record collections. But he was a good boy and kept going.

After we toured the house, we went back across the street and toured the car museum. Of course we saw the famed pink Cadillac. Personally, I liked the Ferrari better.
We grabbed a burger at one of the restaurants and then toured the Lisa Marie. That’s the airplane. Not the daughter. Nick thought that was very cool.

Then it was souvenir shopping and back on the road. My back was still hurting pretty bad. I knew that I couldn’t drive all the way to Atlanta. So we went ahead with our plan to stop in Birmingham, Alabama. We had reserved a room there, but weren’t sure if we would stay or not.

The road to Birmingham was very uneventful. My back wouldn’t hurt, much. Twinges now and then. But getting out to walk I found that I had stiffened up. It was still painful to walk.

When we got to our hotel, I was able to carry a couple of little things up to the room. Lisa was still mad at me, I think.

That night, Lisa did laundry at the hotel. It was a scary place. It was a Days Inn and set back off the road. They were in the process of remodeling and had junk piled all around. It was a smoking hotel so it reeked of cigarette smoke. The laundry was in the breezeway downstairs. And Lisa said the workers would just wander around.
We got in bed and hoped for a better tomorrow.

Part 7

That next morning I was not feeling much better. My back had stiffened up again over night. But I pushed myself up out of bed to face the day.
We were driving to Atlanta today. Lisa does not like traffic. She can handle it well enough (but I make her nervous). So I volunteered to drive. We decided that if I couldn’t make it, we would swap.

We grabbed breakfast and hit the road. One of the blessings of Lisa’s new truck is a little luxury I didn’t think would be necessary on this trip: seat heaters. I used the heck out those things. And the further I drove, the better my back felt. Plus I called in the prayer team at church. Never discount the power of prayer.

We got to Atlanta and drove to Lisa’s friends home. When I was in seminary, Lisa worked for a day care. She became very close friends with another teacher. While we all were in Kentucky, she and her husband tried to get pregnant but had complications. They decided to do in vitro. By this time we were heading back to Oklahoma. We found out, though, that she finally got pregnant – with triplets. It worked out that the triplets and Nicholas were born very close. We visited them one time after the kids were born. But we haven’t seen each other in 7 years.

They welcomed us into their home and the kids got right down to playing. One of the girls took an instant liking to Nick and wouldn’t leave him for very long. The other girls and Andrew just sort of played around each other.

One great thing was by the time we got to their house, they had the name of a chiropractor. I called and got an appointment for that afternoon. We sat and talked until I had to leave.

The chiropractor was a little uneasy treating me since I wouldn’t be there for extra treatments. So he took x-rays (no permanent damage to my back) and did a couple of small adjustments. And sent me out with a verbal promise to come back the next morning and a bill for $170. I kept the bill. Not the appointment.
That evening we enjoyed steak and lots of fun catching up. We got to bed for some rest. For tomorrow was Coke day.

Part 8

I had never been to Atlanta. Well, except for the airport. And I was kind of intimidated by driving through the city. I had always heard how bad the traffic was. So the next morning we had breakfast and packed the truck (Lisa did most of the hauling, I did the organizing). Once our goodbyes were said, we were off to see the World of Coke. I realize now why people have such a bad opinion of Atlanta traffic. The lanes are narrower than standard city highways. And people don’t have a speed below “Blinding Flash” But we arrived at the World of Coke without accident or getting lost. Yay us!

Lisa had been plotting our trip with AAA guide books. We had little concern since the guide book for Atlanta did not include the new WoC building. But we got there without a hitch. The hitch came when the price was almost double what we were expecting. Lisa is still harping over how much it cost. Friends at the church had told us it was about $8 for adults. The new building must have really put a dent in Coke’s pockets (cough cough yeah right). It was $15 for adults. But this was the only thing we wanted to see so we shelled out the dough and went in to see the most expensive commercial in the world.

I will admit that the new building is beautiful. It is a very contemporary design with exhibit halls spiraling off of the center hall. You purchase your tickets outside, pass through security, and into a holding pen. There is a timed video presentation to wait for. So you can look at some art or go to the bathroom. When the doors open you are ushered into another holding pen. Only this one houses Coke memorabilia from around the world and through Coke history. After a little comedy spiel about the items and history you are allowed to enter the theater.
Those of you who watch the Super Bowl for the commercials (who played this year?), you may remember the Coke commercial about the World of Imagination. A person goes up to the machine and puts their money in the slot. Then you follow the coin into an imaginary world inside the machine. Well the movie in the theater was a behind the scenes look at some of the goings on in the world of imagination. Cute movie. Long commercial. (this will be a theme)

After the movie, the screen rises up toward the ceiling and you exit through a tunnel behind where the screen was. This brings you into the central hall hub of the building. Once you have made it this far, you are free to go into any of the exhibit halls. You can tour them at your leisure and in whatever order you want.
It seems like the very first thing we saw was a queue to a meet and greet with the Coke Polar Bear. Polar bears are Nick’s favorite animals. And Lisa loves Coke. And it is a character so Andrew had a kindred spirit. They got in line to meet the bear. What happened next was all a blur.

Lisa pulled Plutopants, our mascot, out of her purse to get a picture with the bear. When it is their turn the bear notices Pluto. The bear sticks out a paw to see Pluto. The bear sniffs Pluto. Lisa warns the bear not to hurt Pluto. The bear eats Pluto.

Since beauty always triumphs over the beast, Lisa convinced the bear to spit Pluto out. After picture snapping we headed off to tour the building. There are manufacturing/bottling exhibit halls, history exhibit halls, art exhibit halls, and a 4-D movie. But of course, the only reason people go to WoC is for the tasting hall. WoC has 7 or 8 tasting stations. Each station has 3 banks of 6 or 7 flavors. And each station is a different offering of flavors. So you can taste 40 or 50 different Coke flavors from around the world. And yes, Beverly is offered. One cool extra is that on your way out of the museum you are given an 8 ounce bottle of Coke.

You exit into the Coke dump shop. The boys had to have their souvenir fix before we left. But we got done just in time to squeak into Macon for a lunch meet at Sonny’s. Except. Remember how I said that we got to the WoC without an accident. Well, we didn’t make it out of the WoC without an accident. As I was backing up the truck in the parking garage I backed into the bumper of a car behind me. I put a dent about the size of desert plate in the plastic bumper. If you read my blog you know what happened next. If not, I’ll tell you.

I pulled into a parking space down the drive (Amy – close your eyes, I parked illegally in a handicap space) so I could go find an Atlanta police officer. I had seen some wandering around the park in front of WoC. I found one and told him what happened and that I needed to file a report. He contacted WoC security and we got all the info.

We got out of Atlanta in time to be very late to Sonny’s to meet friends. Or meat. But after doing every bit of the speed limit plus a little for good measure, we got to Macon.

Part 9

Pulling into Sonny’s I knew we had made the right choice as a place to meet. I was starving. We walked into the restaurant and found Mark first thing. We got ushered to the table and greeted Amy, Rhonda, and Wesley. Everyone got settled in and the chatting began. I’m sure the waitress was wondering what kind of lunch meeting this was. Everyone ordered and that table was soon surrounded with stories and life. As any table should. The food was very good. It involved lots of meat, what could be wrong with that?

After we had stuffed ourselves, we convinced Amy to skip out on the rest of the day’s work and headed over to the church. It is a minister’s prerogative to see their ministerial friends church. So Mark gave us the royal tour. And the special treat was that the church was having a rummage sale. So everyone found little treasures to take home. Mark showed off his Disney Institute graduation, which I am very envious of. Amy got to meet and love on Pluto. And we all posed for a picture in Mark’s inner sanctum.

We followed Mark and Rhonda back to the house. They had graciously offered to provide us a home for the night. That evening was filled with adults chatting, ministers griping, children playing/crying, and Mark discovering that his floor may not be level. I asked that we eat in because I found out that my back was still a little sore when sitting in restaurant style chairs. So Rhonda fixed us a spaghetti supper.
Andrew and Wesley had to show us the costumes and put on a little show for the camera. And when we got them ready for bed, they had matching jammies.

The adults stayed up a little later but we went to bed at a responsible time.

The next morning we had to get gone to make the trip up to Nashville. After saying our goodbyes (and I regretted leaving so soon) we drove back into Macon for fuel and a little fun. The Macon Art and Science Museum participates in the membership program that our Oklahoma science museum, the Omniplex, participates in. Part of our plan for this trip was to visit some of these museum. So we dropped in to see what they had. It is neat little museum.

The dinosaur exhibit is cool for your dino loving kids. They have a science lab and archaeology simulation. They have a set of bunker gear for would be fire fighters. It was a fun little diversion before the kinda long drive to Nashville.

Part 10

Macon to Nashville is quite the long haul. We considered stops along the way to see things, but it didn’t happen. We were pressed to get to Nashville in time for supper at Jami’s. So Lisa slept, the boys watched television, and I got to drive. By this point, my back was almost back to normal. Vacation was going to continue. And this was up in the air. Our plan was that if my back had not improved, we would get on the interstate and point our nose for Oklahoma. But since I was much better, the rest of the vacation was saved.

We got into the Nashville area right about exodus time. But since we were inbound, traffic wasn’t that bad. We found our hotel and called Jami. She gave us very clear directions on how to get to her house. Before we knew it we were hopping out and Jami’s dog was terrifying Andrew. But we quickly got into the house to a warm welcome. The boys set about trying to figure each other out. Nick was excited about the tree house. But he wasn’t quite up to the challenge it presented. Since Evan was in the doghouse (proverbial, not literal), they had to scrounge to find something for our Andrew to play with. But the adults chatted as supper was being prepared. Nick found the dead room.

Mort and I burnt (not really) some animal flesh outside whilst he shared lots of stories about his safari, which made me envious. Lisa and Jami were off in the kitchen doing something. The boys were running around like crazy people. So it was a relaxing evening.

It ended much too soon. We had sleepy children and a big day touring Nashville the next day. We made plans to meet up with Jami and the boys (with the prospect of a Meat and 3 put before us) and parted ways.

Part 11

The next morning we were up bright and early. We had a couple of must haves that had to be accomplished that day. The first stop was the “Vatican” of United Methodism. The Upper Room is a devotional publication printed and distributed around the world by the United Methodist Church. The Upper Room Chapel is literally an chapel built in a room above the headquarter offices of the Upper Room. It is a simple chapel space that is used weekly for services. But has a couple of beautiful pieces of artwork. The first is a 20 foot by 8 foot stained glass window that depicts the Holy Spirit coming on the disciples and the work they accomplished. The other piece of art is a wood carving reproduction of da Vinci’s Last Supper. The wood carving is 17 feet long and 8 feet high. It is truly a masterpiece in its own right.

After touring the religious exhibits downstairs we made a trek to a couple of old buildings from Nashville’s history. Lisa discovered the fascinating history of Downtown Presbyterian Church. What fascinated her was its history of being a hospital during the Civil War. It also has the most interesting interior décor of any church I have ever seen. The sanctuary is Egyptian revivalist in style. You go in and it reminds you of an Egyptian temple or something you might have seen in a pharaoh’s court.

Our next stop was the Ryman Auditorium, original home of the Grand Ole Opry. We considered a tour but we were fiscally limited. So we took a picture of the outside.
We called Jami and made arrangements for lunch. She said that she was taking us to the BETTER Meat and 3. Which proved to be a culinary treat. Especially if you like good Southern comfort foods. We rolled Lisa and Jami out of there and said our final goodbyes in the parking lot.

We really wanted to get our money’s worth out of the science museum membership, so we visited the Adventure Science Center. The boys loved this place. There were activities and a climbing tree. Nick loved the body wars game which is sort of like an educational Buzz Lightyear without the moving cars. There was a slide that simulated the body function of, well, let’s just say that when you got to the end of the slide you felt like saying, “Excuse me.”

Being a huge history nut and Nick being a president nut, I really wanted to take him out to see the Hermitage, the home of Andrew Jackson. The really weird thing was Andrew Jackson’s place was bigger than Elvis’. We toured the house and grounds. Nick thought it was really cool that Andrew Jackson died in that house. But we didn’t see his ghost.

As we drove back toward the hotel, Lisa and I decided to treat the boys to a special supper. We stopped at the Rainforest Café. Every experience we have had with a Rainforest Café property has been less than positive. We haven’t heard of many positive experiences. But it was a treat for the boys. And we had a great time. The service was good for a very busy large restaurant. The food was above average. Nick got to meet some alligator character. The gorillas freaked out at the rainstorm. It was all good.

We were worn out by the time we got back to the hotel. And the new Drake and Josh movie was on, so the boys had to watch it. We got a good night’s sleep and were prepared for the next leg of our journey.

Part 12

Our next vacation stop was the state of Kentucky. We planned on a few little excursions along the way to our destination of Lexington. The first was Mammoth Cave. I went to Mammoth Cave back in the ‘80’s. We didn’t get to take the tour because the family was more interested in Opryland U.S.A. I really wanted to see the caves. But I was outvoted. So we only saw the entrance. 20 years later and it had really changed. Like Kimmie and Doug, we were wanting to just walk up and get a tour. The only tour available by the time we got there was at 4:30. It was 11:00 (or something like that). There was no way we were going to wait around for that. So back in the car and we were moving right along (doog-a-doon doog-a-doon).

Did you know that Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky? Did you know that Abraham Lincoln is Nick Bergman’s favorite president? Well, we knew both of these. So we stopped for Nick to see the birthplace of one of his heroes. We also got the boys to work on the Junior Ranger program. We traveled up the road to also visit Lincoln’s boyhood home site. They have the actual cabin of Abe’s childhood friend and a working garden in the back. Including Lisa’s favorite flower.

We drove on to Wilmore. This is where I attended seminary. Asbury Seminary is named for an English missionary turned Methodist bishop who lived and ministered to the colonies around the time of the Revolutionary War. Francis Asbury traveled from Maine to Georgia on horseback preaching and establishing Methodist churches. The seminary is founded on the principles taught by John Wesley, the most prominent founder of Methodism. We took the boys for a tour and showed them where I went to school, where we lived, and where we worked. That lasted about 30 minutes. They weren’t overly impressed.

We hunted down some supper and checked into our hotel. This hotel included an indoor swimming pool. So Nick was in the water like a flash. Even Andrew got into the swimming thing. He discovered that he likes the water. He even started jumping into the pool. Now he’s ready to learn the swimming stuff.

On Sunday morning, when most responsible, Bible-believing people go to church, we went to a cemetery. Lisa fell in love with the Lexington cemetery. She is fascinated by cemeteries anyway, but she thinks this one is way cool. It was neat driving around this huge cemetery while it was dreary and the morning fog and dew hung heavy in the air.

To lighten the mood we went to the Lexington Children’s Museum. Let me just say that it almost takes longer to say the name than go through it. But the boys had fun and that is what matters. The rest of the day was a time of relaxing and taking a slower pace. We visited old stomping grounds, went to the mall, saw familiar sights, and found the change happens as some things we knew were gone.

Part 13

The next part of the trip involved two things, a long drive and the supernatural.
After Lexington we were headed to Eureka Springs, Arkansas. That is a 10 hour drive. But we had some stops to make along the way. The last portion of our vacation was Nick’s Ghost Hunter’s tour. About a year ago, Nick got hooked on Sci-Fi Network’s show Ghost Hunters. Since then he has been crazy about hunting ghosts. He has two seasons on DVD and watches them over and over. He has seen almost every episode. When we were planning our route, I showed Lisa that if we planned the trip right, we would be very close to three of the locations that were visited by Ghost Hunters. So we decided to make stops to get Nick a ghost hunting fix.

Our first stop was a dismal failure. The Waverly Hills Sanatorium was a hospital for tuberculosis patients. It is in Louisville, Kentucky. The Ghost Hunters had some very strange encounters there. And it is a huge building. So we wanted to see if we could at least look at it. No such luck. The building was set back off of main roads and accessible by one little road that was gated and locked. So we didn’t get to see it.
Our second stop was Evansville, Indiana. This is the home of the Willard Library. The Willard Library is well known for the Grey Lady who supposedly walks the stacks of books and visits the children’s area. Nick was very excited because we not only got to walk around, but he also so the man who guided the ghost hunters on their tour of the building. His little camera was clicking away here.

Our third stop was a surprise for Nick. But it had to wait for the next day. It was midday when we left Evansville and we had to get to Eureka Springs. So we finished out the trip with very few stops. We drove right by Branson without seeing hardly any of the lights. And got into Eureka well after dark. We stayed at a nice little hotel that night that included complimentary breakfast the next day. Which was a huge thing for Lisa. She was looking for as many complimentary breakfasts as we could find on this trip.

After we checked out we went looking for something exciting. Our first visit was to Onyx Cave. Since we couldn’t get to Mammoth Cave, we scaled back our spelunking standards and wandered through this little cave system. The boys were trying to figure out the natural rock formations but had some trouble seeing what wasn’t there.
When we climbed out of the hole we visited a tiger rescue shelter. This place takes in tigers and other exotic animals who may have been mistreated, abused, or became too much for ignorant owners.

By the time we got back into town we were hungry and wanted to do some shopping.
Once we had killed enough time, we sprung the big surprise on Nick. We drove up the big hill in Eureka Springs to the location of the Crescent Hotel. This was the location of Ghost Hunters more interesting encounters. We got there and Nick was pumped just to be there. But he was even more excited when we told him that we were staying the night in the hotel. Lisa and I were scraping by on some extras to be able to afford staying one night in the Crescent and letting Nick take the ghost tour that night. He was excited about every little thing. The room was great. The pool was great. The lobby was great. And when that night rolled around, he was literally jumping in his skin over going on the ghost tour.

It would have been much better if the ghost tour guides weren’t as lame as the two we had. I didn’t really get much out of the stories other than the history of the hotel. In the ‘30’s, a charlatan and con man convinced people that he had a cure for cancer. In the process of bilking people out of their money, hundreds of people died. It is a grisly tale of horrible circumstances that can be laid at the feet of this one man. I didn’t get to finish the tour, though. Andrew was so tired he we asking to go to bed. So I ducked out and got him into bed while Lisa and Nick finished up the tour.

The End

We got up and checked out without any supernatural experiences. The rest of the trip involved getting on the road, getting some breakfast, and getting home. So I’ll end the report with this thought. 3,100 miles, 10 states, 12 days, 1 chiropractor, 1 non-injury incident report, 4 family members, lots of crazy friends who got to know each other over the internet, and one long road equals a great vacation.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Ghost Stories

Since Halloween is quickly upon us, I thought I would head into the "spooky" for a blog post.

Nick and I are really into the Sci-Fi television series, "Ghost Hunters". The series follows a team of paranormal investigators as they set out to resolve or solve, debunk or declare hauntings. They focus solely on hauntings. They don't dip into U.F.O.'s or bigfoot type creatures.

We have been watching for about a year. Most of the time their scientific efforts to record evidence of a haunting results in very little. Occasionally they collect evidence of something that cannot be explained based on the evidence they have and they leave it up to interpretation. Then finally, very rarely, the evidence is sufficient to point to something that truly is beyond explanation of any sort.

I have to say that I cannot remember ever having an experience of ghost-type phenomenon. Family members have had some experiences that could fit into this category. And personal experience is just as real as evidence in the mind of the person who has experienced something.

But I have found myself wondering about the experience of hauntings (I'm using that in a broad way) in the life of believers. A recent survey by the Associated Press resulted in about 1/3 of people saying they believed in ghosts with almost 1/4 of the people saying they have had an experience they label as ghostly. The survey went on to provide the information that,
The most likely candidates for ghostly visits include single people, Catholics and those who never attend religious services. By 31 percent to 18 percent, more liberals than conservatives report seeing a specter.

The results of this survey would seem to indicate that conservative leaning Protestant believers don't give as much credence to ghost stories. This really strikes me as odd. Because it is conservative Protestants who have the most supernatural of belief system. Miracles, angels, demons, and life after death are part of the worldview of conservative Protestants. It is accepted almost universally among them. This may be a reason why belief in ghosts is so low. Ghostly phenomena may be attributed to miracles, angels, and demons.

Here is my position on ghosts: there are a lot of things that cannot be explained in the natural and the supernatural (the miraculous). Some things that people perceive to be hauntings are the mind's interpretation of things that are out of the normal but can be explained by knowledgeable persons. The experience of a haunting is so real that people need to express their stories without being seen as nutcases. A person's fear resulting from an experience is no less real than other traumatic events. Acts of prayer and anointing can bring comfort to the mind of the person who has experienced a haunting.

All of that being said, and in the spirit of the season, I would like to hear your ghost stories. If you have had an experience with hauntings or a ghostly presence, and if you feel comfortable, I would like to hear your story.

Friday, October 26, 2007

A label by any other name...

I've been stewing on something all week long. I heard a comment that was not directed at me but involved me. The comment basically came down to the point that because of the people I associate with, I am not within that persons' theological camp.

I realize that the person has no clue of who I am nor do they have any idea of my theological stance. But the fact that they chose to make a blanket statement is what irritated the snot out of me. Out of ignorance this person made a judgment of me. I don't mind if people classify me if they have taken the time to get to know me.

But I believe this is an example of how fractured we are becoming among United Methodists and American Christians in general. If we look at the larger context of the U.S. we see a growing division between factions. We cut the line between two groups: liberal and conservative. The line between the groups is growing more insurmountable but the "qualifications" for identification are not becoming any clearer.

More often than not, the label of liberal and conservative is a subjective opinion and not based on a set standard of principles. So if you believe different than me in some area, then that would make you liberal or conservative. If you promote an agenda I don't agree with, then you are liberal or conservative. If you work for something that is different than what I believe is important, then you are liberal or conservative. Our own ideas, beliefs, objectives, or goals become the standard by which others are judged.

The problem with the division that is growing between the "sides" of the church is that, instead of following the example of Christ and reaching out as Christ would, we fellowship and associate based on our own image. This isn't partisan politics. This is a form of self-idolatry.

I wish I could say that I had moved beyond it, but I know that I haven't. I draw the lines in my own mind of who is on whose side. But I have also made a conscious choice to associate beyond my own theological prejudice. That comes from some wonderful examples that I have had in the past. I have known men and women who were able to set aside differences (racial, gender, circumstance, ideological) to work together for a common purpose.

I also work to put myself in places where my own ideological principles are challenged. I believe that faith, personal doctrine, social and cultural and political worldviews are developed through challenge.

I hesitate to associate with organized groups within the Conference. It's not because I don't like the people. I have found that I like many of my colleagues. But I chose not to associate because of the label that would be attached to my name. But I believe that those days are done.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I'm half the man I thought I was

Popular Mechanics offers an article on 25 Skills Every Man Should Know.

I found out that I only knew half of them. More precisely, I knew 13 about of 25. Not surprisingly, I got almost all of the geek skills covered. I still haven't discovered how to hook up an HDTV. But that is only because I can't afford one.

Sadly I lack certain skills in the physical arena. Saving a person in a capsized boat for instance. Of course I don't feel too much at a loss seeing that I am a hydrophobe. But I have been out on boats more recently than the rest of my life. I may want to get that one learned.

I also can't back with a trailer. Oh, I can get the job done. But it takes much trial, error, and intense concentration. So I save it for the more manly.

But I have to wonder: why is it a man's skill to protect a computer? Women are just as able to protect their valuable information. So that one stumps me.