“Welcome Back!” – He Says To Himself

Jan 2, 2020   //   by bwilber   //   Bob's Blog  //  Add a Comment

Whew! It’s been a crazy couple of weeks but I’m back to work and have fingers on the keyboard to create some new nonsense today. I’m a little late, in that it’s now almost 4:00 on an overcast Minnesota Thursday, but the thermometer is on our side and a lot of our accumulated snow is melting. It’s kind of been that way to this point in the winter season. Big snowfalls followed by warmups. That’s not a bad thing.

So anyway, since I last blogged at you two weeks ago (after having just gotten back from a quick trip to Texas) it’s been pretty nonstop. And a lot of it has been what we’d refer to as “self induced” considering the reason. Not all, but some. Let’s start off with the Monday before Christmas. That story is definitely not self-induced. It was my pleasure to participate.

Thrilled to be asked to attend Monday Night Football with Joe Gillis. Sad the wrong team won. (Click on any image to enlarge)

Our dear friends Joe and Mary Beth Gillis are season-ticket holders for the Vikings. Not only that, they are also season-ticket holders for the Green Bay Packers. Joe is originally from Green Bay, so that’s the reason for that. And, if you know anything about the Packers you probably know that season tickets are almost impossible to come by, so families tend to hold on to them for generations. Joe isn’t giving his tickets up anytime soon. Like never. Joe and Mary Beth are also what we call, around these parts, a “mixed marriage” because Joe wears green and gold and MB is a solid purple girl. It happens a lot around here. We have a number of friends who are part of the same sort of arrangement. According to all, you have to be civil and you have to be respectful. Other than that, you can cheer for your team all you want, as vociferously as you want. And wear your colors! It’s a way of life.

Mary Beth could not attend the Monday Night Football game between the Vikes and the Pack due to neck surgery. She’s doing well and recovering fast, but it was impossible for her to dress in purple and use her ticket for that game. I was honored when Joe offered the seat to me, and we discussed the ground rules after Mary Beth instructed me, in no uncertain terms, that my responsibility was to cheer as loudly for the Vikings as she would have. Unfortunately, my cheering wasn’t enough for the Vikings. Still, a fun time was had by both of us and I was struck by how friendly the crowd was, at least until the fourth quarter when most of the  fans had a few beers in them and they started razzing each other. Until then, the predominance of mixed colors was mostly a good vibe. Thanks Joe! It was an honor to be there with you, green and gold notwithstanding, and we had a great time. We even hooked up with another friend to do a little tailgating in the parking lots prior to kickoff. All around, a great night.

Boofus knew it was Christmas

Christmas, at the Doyle/Wilber manse, was a very low-key event. We agreed to go minimalist on everything from decorations to presents, and Barbara and I were both good with that. We bought a little 4-foot pre-lit tree at Home Depot and put it on the porch, because The Boyz can’t help but try to eat anything green that looks like a plant, even if it’s artificial. We bought a few presents for each other but also managed to fill The Boyz stocking with new toys, because they don’t have enough toys. Like, an entire house full of toys scattered everywhere just isn’t enough when it comes to toy quantity.

We slept in, lounged around in sweatpants, and had a nice breakfast followed by a late lunch, before we even moved the wrapped gifts to the living room. At that point, both Buster and Boofus knew it was Christmas. They actually get pretty excited when it’s time to see what we gave each other and what’s in their stocking above the fireplace. Seriously. Somehow they know.

It was a great day, full of wonderful heartfelt presents and two fuzzy guys playing with their new stuff. Catnip is a magical thing. They roll around with those new stuffed mice (which look exactly like their old stuffed mice) and then chase each other around the house at full speed. Merry Christmas to all, including Boofie and the Big Fella. And hey, look! There’s a champagne glass in the background. If you’re going to do Christmas, you should do it right!

The next morning, bright and far too early (we’re talking about being up and getting ready just after 5:00 a.m.) we were off to the airport to begin another great Barbara/Bob adventure. This one was partly just for fun and mostly just for miles. You read that right.

As we’ve often done late in December, I needed to make a “mileage run” on Delta to get to the next level of elite status. This is not uncommon among those of us who fly a lot, whether it be on Delta or some other airline. Earning elite status is hard to do, and it entails a year full of often back-breaking travel at a heavy financial cost. But, that elite status is SO WORTH IT when it comes to how your travel will happen throughout the next calendar year. The level of customer service, with Delta, is primo and well worth the effort.

At the end of November I started doing the math. It was clear I was going to come up about 7,000 miles or so short of Diamond, which is the highest official level you can reach. There’s another “secret” level above Diamond, which no one discloses, but I know it’s there. I don’t have a clue how many miles you need to fly to earn it, but I know it’s way out of my reach. It’s for frequent flyers who do a lot of overseas travel, to places like China and Australia. If you’re ever on a Delta flight and see a Porsche Cayenne pull up next to the plane when it approaches the jet bridge, that’s for one of those people. They’ve earned that private Porsche ride to their connection. As for me, 125,000 miles in a year has always been a lot and a tough target to reach. I only had a shot this year because of my trips to Kauai and the fact I had 30,000 miles roll-over from last year when I came up short. So, it was time for a “mileage run” to make it back over the Diamond hump.

These are generally not glamorous trips. They are mostly just a way to get the miles you need, but in my mind you might as well go someplace you like if you can. I needed a big loop around half of the United States to do it. Why not Austin, L.A., and Spokane with a connection in Seattle? Sounded good to me, and Barbara as able to make the Austin trip with me! Plus, she’s super-duper elite with Marriott, so it gave her a chance to earn a few more nights and points with them.

And just as an aside, we shall never forget the one year when we were living out in Spokane and Barb needed to make a “run” in December, in order to get back to Diamond. She flew on a red-eye overnight flight all the way to Atlanta, then got off the plane before getting right back on the same aircraft to fly back to Spokane. She was nuts. At least I leave the individual airports!

We had to. The Oasis still rocks.

We lived in Austin for four years, so that was an easy first stop. We got in on the afternoon of the 26th and went straight to The Oasis, out on Lake Travis west of town. When we lived in Austin, our home was only a few miles from The Oasis and we always took out-of-town visitors there. It wasn’t necessarily for the food (which was always decent but not outstanding) but way more for the views of the lake, the sunsets, and the ambience. It’s just a cool place, and has been for a very long time.

The Oasis looks like a standard restaurant from the outside, but once you’re in you see that it is made up of dozens of expansive outdoor decks, all overlooking the lake. It’s spectacular. Sadly, not long after we left Austin and moved to Minnesota, it caught fire and the wooden decks were burned to the ground. I vividly remember how we felt when we heard the news and saw the photos. I figured we’d never have the chance to experience it again.

Amazingly, they rebuilt and used synthetic planks to recreate the same experience with a non-flammable material. And they upgraded the menu and the staff. It’s better than it’s ever been, and if you’re ever near Austin, Texas you should do yourself a favor and get to The Oasis out on Lake Travis. In the summer, the sunsets over the lake are amazing.

Million dollar views at The Oasis

We took our time, enjoyed our lunch (OK, too much queso before our entrees arrived, but that’s a mistake we seem to always make) and smiled the whole time. We were back. The Oasis was back. We were in Austin. It was all good. And yes, we came home with three souvenir plastic glasses because the ones in our kitchen were closing in on the 15-year mark in terms of age.

We also drove through our old neighborhood, which is called River Place. The entrance was a little crazy, because they’ve developed it into a business and hotel area, but once we were past that it was all familiar. Of course we drove past our old house, and it looked fabulous. The new owners replaced the standard shingle roof with a tin version, and that looked really cool. Wish we would’ve thought to do that. They also added new fencing in the back and it sure looked like they put in a pool. It was a nostalgic deal. We loved that home, and loved Austin. It was easy to wax nostalgic and remind ourselves of all the great times and great friends we had there. So glad we went on this trip, and were able to “go back home again” at least a little bit. And they say you can’t do that. What do they know? And who are “they” anyway?

Nicest hotel room I’ve ever had the pleasure to stay in, at the JW Marriott in Austin.

We then headed downtown to check in at the JW Marriott, which didn’t exist when we lived there. Much of the current downtown didn’t exist when we lived there. Austin has really grown, but there’s still enough of the old place left to make it charming. It was 4:00 by the time we got to the hotel, so we figured we could check in and get to our room easily. Or not. The room was listed as still being serviced, but the guy at the desk went to talk to his manager to see what they could do. Keep in mind Barbara’s super-duper elite status with Marriott. While he was gone, Barb turned to me and jokingly said “Well they should just put us in the Presidential Suite, right?” We had no idea they even had such a room. It was a joke we both laughed at. And then the clerk came back and said “For the inconvenience, Mrs. Doyle, we’re just going to put you in the Presidential Suite.”

We looked at each other and did all we could to keep from cracking up, although we had no idea what the room would be like. What was it like? Well, calling it “a room” is incorrect. It was a massive suite with a huge bedroom (bigger than 90% of all the hotel rooms I’ve ever been in), two bathrooms, two sitting areas, two huge TVs, a kitchen, and a dining room. It was amazing. We did, however, have plans for the evening so we couldn’t run around and sit on the all the chairs and couches.

The Driskill. An Austin landmark.

We walked up to 6th Street just to have a drink at the bar within the historic Driskill Hotel. Yes, it’s absolutely haunted. Just ask my wife who watches all the “Ghost Hunter” shows on TV. She can tell, and the Driskill isn’t shy about the rumors. It’s a fabulous “old Texas” place and the bar is phenomenal. It was always one of our “go to” joints when we lived there, but we had to stop in the main lobby to have this photo taken by a kind passerby. Again, if you’re ever in Austin, visit the Driskill or stay there if you can. It’s classic.

We sipped on wine, listened to some great live music, then ordered an Uber for a short ride to the other side of the river. We had dinner plans, baby!

Our absolute fave restaurant throughout our four years in Austin was Chuy’s, in Barton Springs. No question, no debate. It’s still the same place, with the same incredible and wacky atmosphere. At a corporate level, it has changed because the company went public and now they have restaurants in multiple states. The only thing that did to the menu was to streamline it, though. A couple of our favorite dishes are no longer available, and I’m guessing that’s because it’s too hard to get those Tex-Mex ingredients in places like Ohio. It’s still Chuy’s though, and we savored every bit of it. For the third time, if you’re ever in Austin….  Just go to Chuy’s in Barton Springs. It’s the original and it’s one of a kind.

After our dinner and Uber ride back to the hotel, we did all we could to enjoy the entire suite, then hit the sack. When it was morning, it looked like the sheer curtains were closed up there on the top floor, but they weren’t. It was fog! Austin was totally fogged in, which put a crimp on some of the plans we had. After a few hours it burned off, and we were able to hit our final Austin stop, and it was a place neither of us had ever been.

Before the trip, we were trying to decide what to do on the 27th before we had to head to the airport. Barbara came up with a visit to the LBJ Presidential Library, and we’re both so glad we did that. We were a bit frustrated that the pea-soup fog slowed down our morning, which made us a little late getting there, so we had to do a bit of the classic Chevy Chase tour, almost running from room to room, but it was all fantastic. The recreation of LBJ’s Oval Office was really neat, but the whole place was terrific. We need to go back and take it in a lot more slowly.

When we did get to Bergstrom Airport, it was time for Barbara and me to split up. She got on a flight back to MSP and I boarded a plane at the next gate, for LAX. It was going to be a quick stop in L.A. but that was all part of the plan. I needed those miles, and LAX is by far the best airport in the L.A. region in terms of both availability and price. I had a reservation for a new “curio” hotel called the H Hotel by Hilton, just a block from the entrance to the sprawling airport. It was fantastic, and so convenient. As a Hilton Honors member, I got a top-floor room and a great rate. And the free shuttle made it officially “no fuss – no muss.” I did have to sleep fast, however. I had a 9:00 flight the next morning.

After a quick shuttle ride back to the airport in the morning, I was on my way to Seattle. That’s a cool route of travel, by the way. Up the coast for a good while, then over the San Joaquin Valley, until finally San Francisco and the entire Bay Area was out my window in the distance. Then up the center of California, right over Mount Shasta, and into Oregon and Washington. We went right over Medford and Eugene, where I played a lot of baseball back in the day, but by then it was cloudy. Still, a great ride up America’s left coast. And another 1,000 miles in the bank.

I had to fly into Seattle in order to get to Spokane, and when I booked the flight I saw I had two options. I could have a 25-minute layover, or a 2-hour and 25 minute layover. The short one sounded like a recipe for disaster, and the Sky Club in Seattle is plenty nice, so I went with the long layover. Better to relax than to stress out, in my book.

It’s only a 35 minute hop over to Spokane, so that was easy, but it was around 6:00 by the time I got there. Again, Barbara’s Marriott status did me a big favor. She booked a room for me at the Davenport Grand Hotel in downtown, right by the convention center and the site of Expo ’74, the only World’s Fair I’ve ever attended thanks to the fact my dad was the manager of the Spokane Indians baseball team then. The Grand is sumptuous and friendly. If you’re ever in Spokane…  You know what I mean.

I needed dinner, after a long day of travel, and the best option was right across the street. Spokane is not a big town, but it remarkably has two of the best steak houses I’ve ever been to. Churchill’s was six blocks away. Spencer’s was across the street. Spencer’s won. And they got me in with no wait. Great staff, incredible menu, fabulous chefs. Say it with me: “If you’re ever in Spokane…”  Although you can’t go wrong with Churchill’s if you choose that option. I just chose to walk across the street and the Filet Mignon was incredible. I expected no less.

In the morning, I took a drive out to Liberty Lake. Toured the old neighborhood (our former house hasn’t changed a bit and it’s still a charmer) and the whole town looked just the same and it felt like I’d never left. Lots of new construction in little Liberty Lake, including a new elementary school and the town’s first high school. LL kids won’t have to commute to Spokane Valley anymore, once the high school is done. Ridgeline High, home of the Falcons!

Yes, it was very nostalgic to drive around Liberty Lake, although I didn’t have much time because my flight was at 2:00. We moved back to Minnesota in 2016 so it hasn’t been that long since I’ve been there, but it gave me a fresh perspective on just how nice our time out there really was. It’s a great place to live, and full of fun restaurants. I wish I could have had a meal at Hay J’s, or Legends, or Barlows, or Ding How, or even The Fieldhouse. I only had time to do a drive-by, though. Glad I did that.

Diamond. For the second time ever. You gotta earn it!

Once I got home that night, the deed was done. Actually, my math had been a little off due to a fare class on one of the flights that earned me some extra bonus medallion miles, so I was actually over the Diamond threshold before I boarded my flight at the cozy little Spokane airport. I was at Gate 8. That’s the last one on the concourse. It’s not a big place, but it sure is friendly and convenient.

I have more stories, including the one about New Year’s Eve and our chance to put a party together in just a couple of hours after our hosts who do it nearly every year had the flu invade their home. Maybe I’ll get to that next week, or I’ll update this later. Right now, I need to get to Punch Pizza here in Woodbury to meet Barbara for dinner. I hate to be late!

Sorry for the quick wrap-up, but Punch is calling.

As always, if you just read this deal and thought it wasn’t awful, please do me a favor and click on the “Like” button at the top. Maybe that will earn me some more Delta miles? Probably not, but try it anyway.

See you next time! I’m guessing there are multiple typos in this mess, but I’ll have to fix those after dinner.

Bob Wilber, at your service and still worn out from my “mileage run” trip.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.