Monday, August 29, 2016

CLASSIC TRIP - East Coast Odyssey - Holmes County (Amish Country), Ohio

If you want to catch up on the tour, below are links to each stop:

Niagara Falls
Cedar Point
Holmes County (Amish Country)

After the excitement of Cleveland and Cedar Point, it was time to head over to Pittsburgh. Along the way, we thought we'd venture through Amish Country in Holmes County would be an interesting day.

Once again, the rain started to fall, at times heavily. We set out southbound on Highway 250 out of Sandusky. About an hour later the first sign of the Amish was on the road...a yellow diamond-shaped road sign depicting an Amish buggy letting us know to be cautious of these slow-moving vehicles.

Not too long after that, we saw our first buggy, an open-top rig whose occupants were miserably holding an umbrella against the driving rain. We would sporadically see more Amish buggies both open and closed as we made our way across the state. Another hour and a half and we were on the final road to our destination...Sugarcreek, Ohio.

One more little roadblock before we hit the town - an Ohio state trooper stood in the middle of the small two-lane highway blocking traffic. Soon, a couple of buggies appeared and turned up the drive to the adjacent farm. Then a couple more. After that three or four more. The trickle soon turned to a steady flow as about thirty to forty buggies an several people on feet made their way on the highway and then up to the farm. Once the procession was safely passed, the trooper waved us on and asked us to please be careful because there might be more buggies ahead on the road.

Sugarcreek is a small town with a Swiss them aimed at tourists. I never really got the Swiss connection to the town although I really enjoyed the animated paintings above the shops. It reminded be just a little of Solvang - a Danish-style tourist town back home on the central coast of California.

The Locomotive Switch at Baltic

The Ohio Central Railroad makes several trips daily (it appears that the railroad has been bought out and is now strictly a freight operation, too bad - ed) to the nearby town of Baltic with the passenger coaches pulled by an old coal-fired steam locomotive. This is a very pleasant way of touring through the Amish country while getting a running commentary about this unique way of life. The train and the ticket office in the Depot are accessible while the adjacent gift shop and porta-potties are not. There are accessible public restrooms at both ends of the two block downtown area, just ask for directions.

Because of the buggy procession coming into town, we barely made it to the 12:30pm departure of the train (the next departure would be 2:00pm). My wife ran into the depot and purchased the tickets while one of the conductors and I helped Tim onto the wheelchair lift for the train.

The train left promptly after boarding and the rain had cleared up but it was still cloudy. We saw many Amish farms and learned that while the Amish might forgo modern conveniences such as electricity or autos, they employ friends and neighbors to shuttle them in vans or might drive a tractor at a neighbor's farm before returning home to plow their own field with a horse.

Amish Farms in Holmes County

We also learned that Amish children to not attend school after eighth grade with no apparent ill effects on their education...the state of Ohio tested many of the kids here as part of a study and found they scored higher than most kids. They also do not believe in insurance or contracts...a deal is consummated via a handshake.

It was interesting to see the juxtapositions with modern life. Local supermarkets have a rail where buggies can be tied up while shopping. Horses wear ruts down the middle of a lane while in other places auto tires tend to wear grooves on either side. Of course, we already learned that autos better be aware and share the road with the slow-moving buggies.

I asked the conductor about the buggy procession we had seen on the way into town. It was a funeral. I guess funerals, weddings, and other social occasions are reserved for Thursdays (which this day was ) while Sundays are for church. The rest of the week is work.

On Board the Ohio Central Rail Road

After the train ride, we had lunch at the Swiss Hat nearby and had some wonderful comfort food from their buffet. My wife bought a handmade quilt that upon closer inspection later was revealed to be made in China. Oh's still a nice quilt.

Now it's time to head on to the next leg of the trip, Pittsburgh.

Copyright 2001 - Darryl Musick

Friday, August 26, 2016

CLASSIC TRIP - East Coast Odyssey - Cedar Point, Ohio

After a cozy night and a day of touring in Cleveland, we moved on 50 miles west to Sandusky.

My son and I are roller coaster nuts and are always looking for ways to prove ourselves. Here on the shore of Lake Erie magically rising skyward from the tip of a peninsula is the holy grail of coasterdom, Cedar Point, with more roller coasters in one spot than any other park on earth.

The Point is also home to the tallest coaster in North America (second tallest in the world), Millennium Force (this has since been eclipsed by several coasters - Ed). As Tim Allen might say, this bad boy features a super-quick elevator style lift hill, a 300 foot near vertical first drop, 92 mph top speed, stadium style seating, 120° overbanked turns (that invert you slightly), and two tunnels.

I had made my hotel reservations via Cedar Point's website for the Breaker's Express hotel, which is the Point's budget lodging. There us also the upscale Hotel Breakers, Sandcastle Suites, and Lighthouse Point Cabins and Campground which are at the park. Breakers Express is about a mile away. The other three properties mentioned were either not available or very expensive (Sandcastle Suites at over $200 per night).

I opted for e-mail notification when making the reservations and two weeks before leaving got a message advertising $49 season passes that were available at certain Cleveland area Tops markets. Since we were going for two days and the usual price was $39 per day, this was welcome news. So the last thing we did in Cleveland was to stop at a Tops market and pick up three passes.

After a lovely drive through the Ohio countryside, we arrived at the Breakers Express. It's pretty large and basic...about Motel 6 quality except the beds are bigger. There's a large pool area and a hot tub outside with minimal landscaping. The boxy look of the building and the large security fence behind the pool area depressed my wife who thought it looked like a prison exercise yard.

We reserved a barrier-free room and were place at the very end of the first floor. Unfortunately, this was the absolute worst place in the hotel as the door from the parking lot could be heard slamming all night long. On top of that, the ice machine was just outside so we were treated to a symphony of ice buckets being filled. After the park closed at 10, many shouts from park goers could be heard echoing through the halls. It was truly a miserable night (yes we did complain and security came to quiet the more noisy guests in our wing but could not move us or do anything about the door).

The next morning, we demanded a move. A lovely woman at the front desk actually went up to the third floor to personally find the quietest room she could and moved us there. It wasn't barrier-free but we had no more problems with noise.

After settling that, we headed over to the park. Handicapped parking is right next to the front gate. We processed our season passes with two wonderful ladies who snapped our pictures and printed them on the cards that would serve as our passes. Noticing we were from Southern California, they informed us that are passes are also good at Knott's Berry Farm until next May. Great! We saved money and got passes to our local park as part of the bargain.

Entering the park, we asked about a Special Assistance Pass (SAP) for my son and were directed to Park Operations. There, we got the pass and learned about Cedar Point's unique handicapped ride system.

Maybe a little history is called for here. For many years, parks routinely let disabled guests enter through the exits of rides. Many less scrupulous able-bodied park goers caught on and started renting wheelchairs to avoid the lines. Others started to resent disabled riders who got on immediately while they waited for hours.
Disney started building all their rides to have accessible queues but many disabled persons still can't manage to stand in line that long without problems (and Disney's idea of accessible is somewhat lacking). They also started really cracking down on what constitutes disability...I will never forget the humiliation of having to prove my son was disabled at City Hall there when it is very obvious with his leg braces and limited movement - not to mention the expensive power chair he sits in. Six Flags said, screw it, wait in line till you can't go farther and then try to find someone to help you.

I sympathize with some of it. Disabled guests should not skip the wait time but on the other hand, should not be made to needlessly suffer.

Back to Cedar Point Park Operations. In my opinion, I think Cedar Point has come upon a very neat solution. You are given a passport-like book with all the rides likely to have long lines listed in it. This is your SAP.

You then take this to the ride you want to go on and present it to the worker at the end of the line. The worker checks to see what the normal wait is and stamps your book like a visa with the time you should return (now plus the wait time). If it's 12:00 and the wait time is half an hour, your book is marked with 12:30. You can only make one reservation at a time. It's similar to FastPass at Disneyland.

When your time is up, you return and board the ride. For the inconvenience of having to wait, you are allowed to ride twice. While you wait, you can go on any ride not listed and get immediate boarding or do anything else you want but you don't have to wait at the queue.

I asked several able-bodied guests what they thought of this and all seemed to think it was a fair and compassionate did I. The ladies in the Park Operations office told us that many disabled park goers didn't like it. I don't see the problem, but maybe some of us have gotten too used to not waiting in line. The ADA says everybody's equal now, so we have to live with the same guidelines.

Now having praised Cedar Point's policy, I do take exception that several rides have stairs to negotiate even for disabled guests. The older rides like Corkscrew, Disaster Transport, Gemini, and Iron Dragon were this way. I know it would not take much to ramp up some of these rides.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia
Coasterman1234 under CC-BY-SA license
Our first ride was on Corkscrew where the line worker stamped our book for immediate boarding. I carried Tim up the stairs. It was fun but bumpy. Too bumpy for my wife who refused to go on another coaster after that.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia
Chris Hagerman under CC-BY-SA license
Next was the Mine Train coaster where we again had a short fifteen minute wait (we rode the Antique Car ride and had a beer in the meantime). It was extremely smooth and gentle.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia
Nick Nolte under CC-BY-SA license

Mean Streak is the towering wooden coaster at the very end of the park. It's more popular so we would have 30 minutes to kill. This we did by going on their river cruise ride which is very similar to Disney's Jungle Cruise ride. Mean Streak was OK but is no match for Ghostrider at Knott's Berry Farm...still the best woody in the world for my money. Mean Streak just had too many dead spots in between the exciting ones.

Now it was on to the big, bad boy himself, Millennium Force. It's very popular translating to an hour and twenty minute wait. We used this time to have some elephant ears (fried dough) and more beer. Yummy!
We also went on the Calypso, a kinda combination Twister and Himalaya. The operator made sure that the car my son was riding in was at the bottom of the slope for easy unloading when the ride was over. How thoughtful! I remember the pain of a severely wrenched back from getting my son out of the Himalaya at Magic Mountain when that ride's operator did exactly the opposite.

Time to face our demons and report to the Millennium Force queue for our appointment with destiny.
Tim was very nervous. I reassured him although I was fighting off my own severe case of butterflies as we waited to load. As we waited I noticed something else about this park...the ride operators are very proud of the beasts that they operate.

Every coaster we rode, the operators would consistently brag over the speakers to the guests the eye-popping statistics of their rides like proud parents of little leaguers.

The Mean Streak operator would pipe up "You are about to be dropped 165 feet down at 60 miles an hour on what was the largest roller coaster of it's time. G-forces exceeding 4 will pull at your body. A combined 6 seconds of weightlessness awaits you. Ladies and gentlemen, you are about to experience Mean Streak....please keep your hands and feet inside at all times."

While waiting at Millennium force the speakers would blare "Ladies and gentlemen, please board Millennium Force and prepare to hurtle 300 feet down at 92 miles per hour into some seriously overbanked turns that will invert and disorient you. You will travel through two tunnels and over 6,595 feet of twisting steel track. This is the tallest and fastest roller coaster in the country and second tallest in the world. Ladies and force."
Millennium Force Looms Over Lake Erie

Upon their return, the operators would get back on the speakers and ask how they like their ride whereupon the riders would break into enthusiastic applause. I like it when it's obvious the employees like their jobs and are as enthusiastic as you are.

We board the train in the second row of the first car and strap in tightly. The elevated second row allows us to see over the heads of those in the first row giving us an equally tantalizing view.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia
Coasterman1234 under CC-BY-SA license

We leave the station at a quicker-than-normal speed and those butterflies are killing me as I look straight up to, I don't know, forever I guess...the lift hill is a stomach churning 310 feet tall. About two thirds of the way up, the lift suddenly gains speed. NO!!! I'm not ready yet!

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia
Coasterman1234 under CC-BY-SA license
Arcing over the top, I look with dread 300 feet...straight..down. In a flash we're zooming through the bottom. Another second and we've cleared those massive overbanked turns and head through the tunnel. Around a bend, into a second tunnel where our photo is snapped for posterity. A wicked camel hump, another overbanked turn and we're back where we started. Wow...that was some seriously demented fun.

Lunch is next at the Silver Dollar, one of the park's sit down restaurants. The service is good, the food terrible. Cedar Fair also owns Knott's Berry Farm...I would suggest that they import Mrs. Knott's chicken dinners here ASAP!

We take a nap break at the hotel and return to find the park closes at 8:00 today. We thought it would be 10:00. Not much time left. We make an appointment for Raptor right at closing time. Meanwhile we take in some great views of Lake Erie and the park from their giant Ferris wheel.

Agh! I'm out of film! I would have loved to have posted those pictures here (thank God Wikimedia has come into existence since this trip was taken - Ed).

It's 8:05, just after dusk...Tim and I board Raptor in the front row. Those of you familiar with Magic Mountain will recognize this as a clone of Batman with an extra inversion. Those of you who are not, this is a suspended, looping coaster where your legs dangle in midair the entire ride.

I like this ride, a lot, just like I like Batman. It's smooth, fast, and the inversions are awesome. One major problem on riding it at the particular time we did.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia
Coasterman1234 under CC-BY-SA license

The first drop and I'm screaming like a maniac and three gnats lodge themselves in the back of my throat.
After the first loop, another finds my eye. I shut my eyes and mouth and feel many more stingingly bounce off my face for the rest of the ride. This is one I don't need to ride twice right now.

That's the end of the first day. That night we sleep the sleep of the dead in our new, much improved room. The next morning, we head back to the Point.

We have a decent, sit-down breakfast at the Boathouse located at Cedar Point's marina before heading in.

We head over to Blue Streak, a much smaller and older wooden coaster than Mean Streak. It looks like a pleasant little coaster that should give us just a little thrill to start the day.

Photo couresy of Wikimedia
Nick Nolte under CC-BY-SA license

After spending much of the ride suspended weightlessly in thin air, I realize that looks are deceiving. This is another completely gut-busting thrill ride putting the much bigger Mean Streak to shame. I am just astounded that this tiny wooden coaster sitting quietly out of the way delivers such a major league coaster punch.

Tim wants to do Raptor again. After waiting an hour for our appointed time (we wiled it away going on a few spinner rides), we ride it twice. It’s much nicer without the night time bugs flogging your face.

Tim and I have one more major coaster to do to complete our list...Magnum XL-200. In its day, like many of the Point’s coasters, it was the tallest and fastest in the world. Although many modern coasters have passed it by, it still packs quite a punch.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia
Nick Nolte under CC-BY-SA license

We only have a five minute wait and the rain is just starting. We are alone in the front one else is there until the third car. It’s scary riding up that huge 200 foot lift hill by yourself. It’s quite fast with some extreme air time including quite a bit in its two terrifying tunnels. The rain combined with the high speed put a bit of a damper on because it stings your face pretty bad.

Millennium Force had been planned for an encore but by this time it had started to rain pretty hard and most rides were closed. We called it a day at that point.

Although we had wanted to repeat many more rides, we are satisfied that we accomplished what we set out to do.

It’s still early, around noon, and we don’t want to spend the day in our hotel. A drive in the country sounds good. We head west towards Toledo and cut up to Michigan where we have lunch at the Buffalo Grill in Erie.

My wife and I split a delicious rib eye steak sandwich while Tim had a burger and fries for a total of less than $12. We notice that we still have some time and Detroit is only 34 miles away. We can pop up there and take a quick tour of Comerica Park (the Tigers stadium) and Tim can add that to the list of ballparks he’s visited.
Comerica Park, Home of the Tigers (notice the tigers on top of the scoreboard)

Though we were only there a couple of hours, Detroit itself was quite a depressing an American Beirut. The stadium is very nice, though. Eating at the in-stadium McDonald’s (the Tigers were on the road playing our Angels) afforded us the opportunity to go inside the park and take some pictures.

We noticed the old Tiger Stadium was still standing when we came into town and tried to drive over to see it, but the streets were very confusing and a Detroit cop just about T-Boned us because he was going about 70 miles an hour and not looking where he was going (no lights or siren, I think he was just in a hurry). At that point, it was decided that was enough of the Motor City and we hightailed it back to Ohio.

Another good night’s sleep and it was off to the next part of our trip, Amish country.

Copyright 2001 - Darryl Musick

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

CEREBRAL PALSY STORIES: Physical Therapy Tuneup-Going To The Gym

For anyone who has a disability like me, physical fitness is another important factor in leading the healthiest lifestyle possible for those who are physically challenged or can't walk.

My weekly workout routine consists of going to Movement Unlimited Fitness Center in Monrovia twice a week.  It's good that they are a gym that specializes in providing physical fitness services to those who are disabled.  They also offer the same services to people who are not disabled.

Some of the exercises I do at Movement Unlimited are the stationary bike for my arms and legs on Mondays for about 20 minutes or so and ten laps in a walker in the aerobics room on Fridays.

Ten laps is the goal each week that I shoot for. even though I don't always reach that goal during my walking routine.  For the weekly walking exercise, I use a specially designed walker called a Rifton Gait Trainer that is equipped with two ankle straps to keep my feet in place as well as another strap that goes around my waist to help me stand in a more upright posture position.

The laps in the aerobics room are probably the most physically demanding exercise I do on a weekly basis.  By the end of the ten laps, I usually have to take a few minutes to rest and catch my breath. I also keep track of how fast I complete the ten laps from time to time, but my Dad and I have a rule that if I stop at any point during the walk to take a rest, then we don't keep track of the time it takes to finish the laps.  On that note for those inquiring minds, my fastest time of doing tens laps in the aerobics room is around seven minutes and ten seconds.

When it comes to using the stationary bike, I recently started a new workout regimen where for about a month or so, I will spend the entire workout time on the bike in an effort to shed even more pounds off my body weight.  Up to this point, I've been keeping my body weight at a consistent 163 pounds.  So far, I've spent two complete workouts on the bike up to this point and I have to say that at the end of the first one, I could definitely feel a difference in that I felt like I was using up more energy than I would have if I was on there for the regular allotted time of 20 minutes.  The toughest part of staying on the bike so far for almost an hour is maintaining the mental focus required for such an exercise, but if it's going to help me lose a little more weight then I'm all for it.

Some other arm exercises I do are the Lat Pull to strengthen my lat muscles.  I also use the Bench Press to exercise my shoulders, but instead of laying on the bench, I put my chair in a forward-facing position to use the machine.  I also do ab crunch exercises, which are probably the second toughest exercise I do after the ten laps in the walker.  On each of these arm exercises, I do about three sets consisting of anywhere between 30-50 repetitions in those sets.  If I'm lucky enough to feel extra bursts of energy, I sometimes do one set of 100 repetitions on some of the arm exercises.

So there you have it.  An quick inside look at a workout routine from someone who is physically challenged to show you that even though someone like myself, lives life with a disability everyday, that doesn't stop me from doing my part to stay as physically fit as possible.

Tim Musick
Copyright 2016
All Rights Reserved.     

Monday, August 22, 2016

CLASSIC TRIP - East Coast Odyssey - Cleveland, Ohio

Cleveland was sort of an accident really. We had planned to stop at Erie, PA or Ashtabula, OH for the night on our way to our next stop but were making such good time we pressed on to Cleveland.

Our first Cleveland moment was seeing the new Brown's stadium with its message board flashing "CLEVELAND ROCKS" at us in larger than life letters. It was a fitting welcome because the city truly does rock.

Priority number one, however, was finding a place to lay our head this evening. We had no reservations for this night having left it open for wherever we might land. Mostly, it was planned strictly as an overnighter on the way.

Consulting the AAA Tour Book, we first made our way to the Cross Country Inn on the west side of town. They had a handicapped room available with two dinky full size beds for $59 a night. Thinking we might do better, we came upon a Radisson hotel nearby. They offered a very large, semi-accessible (no roll-in shower) room with a king size bed and a full size sofabed with a full breakfast for $79. I willingly paid the extra $20 for a more comfortable room and food.

I did not regret my decision. The Radisson was an excellent hotel with a very comfortable and quiet room.

We awoke to a fresh day with very little driving to do so we decided to spend it seeing what this city has to offer before moving on.

My son and I would have loved to see the Indians play at Jacobs Progressive Field but they were out of town this week. We settled on taking a tour of the stadium.

Inside the Press box at Jacobs Progressive Field

It was a wonderful tour. Starting out in the press box, we got to sit in the reporter's seats and do some pretend play-by-play. Onward, we were allowed to spend a few minutes in a luxury suite before seeing the club-level private restaurant. Next, it's down to field level where we went inside the batting cages under the stands and roamed the network of tunnels below street level. The tour finished off on the field and into the Indians dugout where we could sit on the players bench and take photos. We had a great time here.

The Indians' New Bench Warmers

Afterward, it's just a short hop on an accessible trolley over to the East Flats area where numerous restaurants offer great food and drink along with riverfront views of freighters coming in from Lake Erie. We had lunch at Joe's Crab Shack which had good food and slow service.

The Warsaw Tavern Really Exists!! (Except it's Really Called the Memphis Lounge)

Those summer rain storms came in again so we left the rockin' Cleveland. On the way out, we saw the tavern whose exteriors were used as shots of the Warsaw on the Drew Carey Show. Now it's on to Part Four...Cedar Point.

Copyright 2001 - Darryl Musick

Friday, August 19, 2016

CLASSIC TRIP - East Coast Odyssey - Niagara Falls, Canada/NY

 I was really prepared to hate this place. I'd heard about its Vegas like character (there is even a casino on the Canadian side), its endless tourist traps, and tacky gift shops. The "what a shame they had to ruin a natural spectacle" whispers and the endless development.

Yes, this is all there in abundance, but you know what? It doesn't diminish from the falls one bit.

I'd seen the thousand-plus foot plunge of Yosemite falls up close and wondered why a puny drop of less than two hundred feet hogged all the press. I know's not the drop, it's the power and the sheer mass of water plunging over the precipice that is so astounding.

I've read many articles, visited many web sites, and seen hundreds of advertisements for the falls over the years and responded with a ho-hum. Nothing you see in print or any other media does this place any justice.

It's something you have to see right in front of you with your own eyes.

We left the ho-hum city of Toronto in the morning on our way to Ohio. Our plan was to stop for a few hours at the falls (my wife really wanted to see them, as you can probably tell I thought it would be a waste) and continue driving on towards Cleveland before overnighting somewhere.

It's a little over an hour from Toronto to the Canadian side of the falls. First tip: see it from the Canadian side. The falls face Canada - not New York. You'll get a much better view here.

Just across from the American Falls is the park police station for the Canadian side. There are about a dozen free handicapped parking spots here. Use them if you're eligible, they are the only parking you will find withing easy walking distance.

It was sprinkling on and off that day. Our quest was the dock next to the Rainbow Bridge where the small Maid of the Mist boats set sail for the falls.

We worked our way in where we were guided to an elevator that would take us to the dock level. Thin blue rain panchos were issued to us. We put them on and boarded the boat.

As luck would have it, our boat was only about a third full. Every other boat we saw was packed to the rafters, but we had plenty of room and got a spot right at the front of the boat.

The Maid of the Mist Edges up to the Falls

It's a short but amazing trip. The boat puts you right at the foot of the Horseshoe falls. Mist my eye! We were drenched. It's like standing in a driving, hard rain. Many people on board thought it was rain but, no, that's all from the falls.
On Board the Maid of the Mist

After lingering in the spray for about 10 minutes, we turned around and headed back. The views of the falls from the boat were astounding. The true force of millions of gallons of water thundering over the falls each second is a sight to see.

Afterward, we walked up to the Horseshoe falls taking pictures. It really is a breathtaking sight and I was not so jaded anymore. We loaded up on some tacky souvenirs and went to a local Harvey's for lunch.
The Crew in Front of Horshoe Falls

Let me just say that Harvey's serves some of the worst burgers I can remember along with some of the best fries. I was glad that this was the only knock I could give to this incredible visit.

Copyright 2001 - Darryl  Musick

Monday, August 15, 2016

CLASSIC TRIP: East Coast Odyssey - Toronto, Canada

Two countries, eight states, one province, four flights, seven hotels, and 2,511 road miles. It’s our East Coast Odyssey. Follow along for the highlights, the lowlights, and a few sites along the way.

This was a doozy of a trip, so it will be broken into several parts and serialized on the site over the next week or so. Make sure to come back for the next part in the trip.

The airfare was $274 for an open jaw. The first leg was LAX to BUF. The flight home was CHS to LAX. That’s an astounding fare that’s less than half the round-trip fare to many of these cities. We found it on AAA’s web site and flew on US Air.

One-way car rental from Buffalo, NY to Charleston, SC was $680 from Hertz for 17 days and was also found on the AAA web site. We received a Ford Taurus with 6,000 miles on it.

We had some really good times, some slow days, and a couple of very frustrating encounters. Now it’s time to get started.

There were scattered showers the day we drove up from Buffalo. It costs $2.25 and a traffic jam to cross the Peace Bridge into Canada. After that, it’s a 90 minute drive up to Canada’s biggest city.

Canadian freeways are very hard to figure out for this guy used to American highways. You need to know if you want to be on a collector road miles before your exit. If you miss it, it will be ten miles of backtracking to find it and you may miss it again. It took three tries before we could find where to get off for our hotel, all the while we could see it just off the road.

We stayed at the Quality Suites near the airport. It was a very nice suite with a large bathroom (grab bars but a standard tub) and a living room separated from the bedroom by french doors.

The girl at the counter was rather clueless though. We parked in a handicapped stall near the entrance. She said we’d have to pay eight dollars to park in the lot. I asked about the handicapped parking and she said we could park there...but still, go in the lot. I didn’t get it and I didn’t seem to get through to her, so I went into the lot where I took a ticket to get in.

After driving through all three levels of the parking structure, I didn’t see any handicapped spots, so I went to the exit and tried to convince the very limited English speaker not to charge me because there were no handicapped spots. After wildly gesticulating towards my handicapped placard, the attendant let me through without paying the eight dollars.

Back to the front desk where Miss Deer-in-the-Headlights still didn’t understand but her manager finally said I could park in the handicapped spot at no charge. Then she told me (right in front of the other woman) that the girl who sent me to the lot “didn’t know anything”. Great...why is she manning the check-in counter then?

We got our room and headed to the Italian restaurant off of the lobby, called Graffiti. We had a good pizza and some drinks but the service was glacially slow. We had to chase down the waitress for everything, from drink refills to the check.

After a couple of days in Toronto, we found that this is the norm. Every restaurant we went to was the same. Extremely slow service everywhere with not a wit of care displayed by any server anywhere. Finally we caught on...if we’re going to get food and keep on schedule, we’re going to have to break down and eat fast food while in Canada.

After a night we went to downtown Toronto and headed to the CN Tower. It’s easy to find, just look. It stands out wherever you are for 30 miles around. It’s the tallest manmade structure (correction, was the tallest at the time of our visit - Ed) in the world at 1,815 feet tall...exactly three times the height of the Space Needle in Seattle. Visitors can get up as high as 1,465 feet.

The Sign Says it All

The tower is not only the world’s tallest building, it’s also one of its biggest tourist traps. Who can resist going up? I know we can’t and the good folks who run the tower (Trizec-Hahn) know that. $14 dollars will get you an elevator ride up after waiting in line for 45 minutes. But you’re only a little over 1,100 feet up. If you want to go all the way to the little pod at 1,465 feet you can...for an extra $7.50 and another hour of waiting in line for that elevator.

What you get is a great view and the satisfaction of being up so high. There is also a restaurant and bar and, coolest of all, a glass floor you can walk or wheel on with nothing between you and the ground but two inches of see-through glass and 1,100 feet of air.

We had a beer and experienced some more of that great service you get up here. Maybe the waiters had to move slower in the thinner air...

The Sky Dome From the CN tower

The Sky Dome, home of the Toronto Blue Jays is next door to the tower. An unlocked door (don’t tell anybody) let us in for an impromptu tour of the stadium. It’s nice and functional but very sterile and bland. Wheelchair users will be glad to know that you pay extra for accessible seats here.

There was a game that day but after wandering around the stadium and watching the Blue Jays warm up, we decided to skip it (with the lax security, we probably could have stayed around and watched it for free).

We decided to wander around downtown and see what we could find...which was not much. The streets were pretty lifeless and the few restaurants that were open (on a Saturday) didn't look too inviting. Other that the crowd filing into the Sky Dome for the game, it was like a ghost town.

Graffiti was decided on for dinner again. Same service, different day. Except this time I noticed a large group arguing with the manager trying to get a free meal because of the slow service. Hey, don't they know this service is normal here? (We also tried a Golden Griddle the next day along with the other two sit-down places mentioned here with the same results)

After another eventless night, we checked out and headed on, leaving the "New York of Canada" behind as we headed onto part two of our Odyssey.

Next on the schedule: Niagara Falls.

The CN Tower is completely accessible and wheelchair users can skip the second line at the top but not the bottom. An attendant must be contacted for that as well as for access to the outdoor observation level.

Copyright 2001 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Friday, August 12, 2016

CLASSIC TRIP - Charelston, South Carolina 2001

The first impression that hit me when I got to Charleston was how much this city looked like New Orleans.

Charleston and New Orleans could be twins separated at birth

The big difference is that Charleston is a little more reserved in manors and not as exuberant as the home of Mardi Gras is. Other than that, Charleston is still filled with delectable restaurants, interesting old homes, cobblestone streets, southern hospitality, and an almost overpowering sense of history. It's the historical angle that's the biggest hook for me...of course hundreds of world class restaurants don't hurt either.

History abounds in Charleston and its citizens are justifiably proud of least most of it. Most of the city still looks exactly like it did that night almost 140 years ago when the residents of the Battery looked out their front doors to see the first shots of the Civil War being fired in the bay. A dungeon sits just blocks away from where slave traders set up shop. Workers digging in a parking lot uncover the old moat where dozens of pirates were left to rot after they were hung.

It's also this history that makes Charleston a challenge for those who use wheels instead of feet to get around. Since it is a very old city...many houses are two to three hundred years old...historical accuracy rules over disabled access. Don't despair, though, Charleston is still a very worthwhile city to visit.

First the bad news. The old sidewalks here are made of great slabs of slate making for a very bumpy ride on many of them. Not impossible, but just bumpy. No historical bed and breakfast I contacted in the city had an accessible accommodation. They may be there...I hope they are...but none that I personally found. Some restaurants are upstairs, notably the famous..and haunted...Poogan's Porch.

Many fine antebellum plantations are open to the public in the surrounding countryside. These are inaccessible. Magnolia Plantation does have extensive gardens and hiking trails that are wheelchair friendly. We shanghaied some kind strangers to help carry our chair up the steps, but keep in mind there is no other way into the house.

Now the good news. Many quality hotel chains have set up shop here bringing accessibility with them. Among them, Quality Suites, Embassy Suites, and Holiday Inn. We stayed at Quality Suites in North Charleston for $89 which included full breakfast, complementary cocktails, and a 2-room accessible suite. I also recommend the brand new Quality Suites at the other end of the bay bridge in Mount Pleasant...a quick bus or taxi ride over the bridge into Charleston.

Some truly superb restaurants are completely accessible. Listen to live entertainment while sipping freshly brewed beer and eating smothered pork chops or barbecue at the marvelous Southend Brewery and Smokehouse which has three stories...all connected via elevator. Try the local specialty...she-crab A.W. Shuck's which is ramped up to its perch above the old market (she-crab soup is a chowder made with local female crabs and roe). And the seafood boil at Captain Stack's is a delicious way to people-watch in one of their big accessible front window tables.

Many of the streets in Charleston are still paved with cobblestones

To get a sense of history, just start walking around. The mansions on the Battery date back to the 18th century. Signers of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence lie in the many historic cemeteries here. Off shore, the first shots of both the Civil ans Revolutionary wars were fired near and at Fort Sumter.  Signers of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence lie underneath the city.
Townhouses share close quarters with cemeteries

To delve in deeper, take one of the many accessible walking tours of the city. Tour companies specialize in African-American history, Civil War History, Murder Mysteries, and more. We chose a nighttime walk concerned with Charleston's darker side entitled the "Ghost Walk" that takes you to just some of Charleston's most famous haunts.

This tour starts in a gas-lighted Civil War era square (day time Ghost Walks are also available) and takes you to such sights as an alley where duelers would settle their differences; the courthouse where 19th century mass murderers were tried after killing more than 50 guests of their inn; the house of the "doctor to the dead"; and the highlight, a dark and spooky walk through the three century old Unitarian cemetery. Spooky, yes. Educational, very. Fun, definitely.
The Unitarian Cemetery in daylight. It's spookier in the dark

Of course, the biggest event in the rich tapestry that is Charleston's history is the night when Confederate troops at Forts Johnson and Moultry fired on Union Troops stationed at Fort Sumter starting the Civil War. Like visiting the Eiffel Tower in Paris, you cannot visit Charleston without seeing Fort Sumter.

Fort Sumter, now a national monument, is completely accessible with lifts taking you to its several levels. Unfortunately, the ferry that takes you there is not. A stairway must be negotiated to get onto the boat. Because they are a park service concessionaire, the crew are obligated to get you on nonetheless and they will cheerfully do so.

The fort is on a small island in the bay and can easily be seen in the 90 minutes the ferry company allows you to explore. Rangers are on hand to point out and interpret the various features and lore. One bit of information was that the world's first submarine, used to sink a Union ship during the war, sits on the bottom of the bay not far from Fort Sumter (It's the Hunley.  It has been recovered since our trip and now has its own museum - Ed).

Charleston is served by major airlines such as US Air, Amtrak, and Greyhound. We flew into Charlotte, North Carolina, rented a van, and drove in. Accessible public transportation is very good here. The DASH shuttle bus system serves the historic core with fares ranging from free to 75 cents.

Curb cuts abound and some access is peculiar, such as the Battery sea wall has a ramp on one end only, necessitating a return trip to your starting point. The U.S. District Courthouse provides superb centrally located accessible restrooms for tourists (most businesses only serve paying customers) letting you avoid the much less desirable facilities in the parks.

Charleston is a great destination and, with just a little patience, can reward the disabled tourist with its rich history and southern charm.

Save up to $500 when you book your flight +hotel!

Copyright 2001 - Darryl Musick

Friday, August 5, 2016

This Week's Menu: Pan Fried Pork Chops with Mustard Cream Sauce and Grilled Egg White, Ham, and Cheese Sandwich

Here's a killer pork chop recipe for your Sunday dinner. And you know what? Since the chops were on special at the market, the entire dinner...including the potatoes and asparagus as sides...cost less than four dollars, which made three servings.

Along with that delicious dinner, I've got a protein-rich, diabetic friendly, grilled cheese sandwich which makes a great quick lunch or even a dinner replacement.

Recipes are at the links below.

DINNER: Pan Fried Pork Chops with a Mustard Cream Sauce

LUNCH: Grilled Egg White, Ham, and Cheese Sandwich

Copyright 2016 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

DINNER: Pan Fried Pork Chops in a Mustard Cream Sauce

Was thinking about what I should cook for dinner this Sunday while shopping in Sprouts. When I saw center-cut, boneless pork chops on sale for $1.79 a pound, my decision was made.

They weren't the best marbled pieces of pig but they'd do, as long as I had a good sauce to go with it. For some reason, I was thinking mustard. How about creamy mustard?  Then it hit me, mustard cream sauce would be just the ticket.

So I pulled out the gas grill, which has a convenient side burner, and the Lodge cast iron skillet. Then I set to it...

3 - 1 inch thick center cut pork chops
3 tablespoons kosher salt 
black pepper
1 teaspoon tarragon
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/3 cup chicken broth
2/3 cup half and half
1/3 cup filtered bacon grease (see below) or melted lard
1 tablespoon lard

Let's start off with the brine. We always brine pork chops. It's especially useful for those chops you get in the store that don't have a good deal of marbling.

1/2 cup of water, 2 1/2 tablespoons of kosher salt, black pepper, tarragon, and white pepper...dissolved in the water.

Put the chops in a sealable bowl, cover with the brine, seal, and store over night in the refrigerator. 

I cooked some bacon for breakfast.  While this was good for the bacon and eggs we had, I really wanted to capture the leftover pork fat for dinner.

After cooking the bacon, I strained into a very small sauce pan.

I put the chicken broth in the pan and brought to a boil.

Then, I add the mustard. 

I didn't have Dijon on the shelf so I used Philippe's hot mustard instead.

Boil for another 2 minutes. Turn down to a low simmer and reduce for 10-15 minutes.

Turn off the heat and add the half and half. If the sauce seems thin, add in all-purpose flour...sparingly...just a little bit at a time, stirring.

When the thickness is good, stop and cover the sauce.

Heat the covered part of the gas grill to 300 degrees (F).

On a hot burner, put the skillet with a tablespoon of lard in it.

Put the chops in the very hot skillet (careful not to burn yourself) and brown for 2-3 minutes on each side.

Cook covered in the grill, in the skillet, for 10 minutes. Turn the chops and cook another 10 minutes.

Cover and rest for 10 minutes.

Served with the mustard cream sauce ladled on top.

Copyright 2016 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved