Passing of a high school team mate

The following is the obituary of William “Bill” Wesley Osborne III – March 16, 1951 – July 5, 2018.

Bill died of esophageal cancer at the age of 67, and attended Upper Dublin schools far longer than I did. I wasn’t part of his crowd, but we played baseball together in our sophomore and junior years. He was a baseball prodigy – with a strong pitching arm and a good bat, also. I was the 2nd string first baseman; and, oddly enough, Bill played first when he wasn’t pitching!

We weren’t socially connected, and we didn’t share many classes, but Bill was part of my story list since the late sixties. When Bill pitched and I was on first, I was deathly afraid of the call for a pick-off play to first. The distance from the mound to first isn’t that great, his “move” was perfected, and his arm very strong, so the ball came at me like lightening.

Following graduation, I lost track of Bill. He played ball in college, and I thought that I heard that he was drafted into the St. Louis farm system, but read that he played in the Milwaukee system. Not bad.

I didn’t really hear from Bill again until we both became part of the Upper Dublin Class of 69 Facebook Group. His lifestyle and interests were truly interesting to me – and I even tried one of his recipes a few years ago.

He seems to have lived a good life, and had a lot of people in his corner. We weren’t close, but even after 4 days, I’m still thinking of him. 67 is relatively young, in my thinking. There is still a lot to do………, and I’ll still think of Bill, and tell my bland little story.

National Boss Day

Hi – Did you, or anyone else, realize that National Boss Day was October 16, 2017?

I didn’t. Maybe because I was excited about October 17th being my 66th birthday. Or, maybe because I’m retired, I DON’T HAVE A BOSS! Well, unless you rightly identify Alison as the just holder of that position.

So, now that I realized, amost a month later, that I missed it …… do I care? As with most things cerebral, I referred to Scott Adam’s Dilbert bible. He last published a National Boss Day piece back in 2005. As always, his wisdom is appropriate.

Thank you for your genius, Scott Adams

Uh, the answer to the above questions is….. no. Not yet, anyway.

2016-12-03 Saturday in Baton Rouge

I actually discovered that we were docked at the Paper Clip here in Baton Rouge last night just after 9. This is the first time that we’ve been docked this trip, believe it or not.

Baton Rouge is the capital of the state of Louisiana. It is a rather good looking city. Interestingly, Barry noted that even though there is river passenger traffic these days, there are no touristy shops and restaurants near the river to capture the tourist dollar.

Our morning began with a very wet 3 mile walk around deck 4. There was a rather steady rain, and we were competing with deck hands with squeegees.

After breakfast, we stopped down for the 8:30 “Dare to Dream – the building of the American Queen” presentation –  a film documentary done back in the mid-90’s by the Delta Steamboat Company, which conceived of and built the American Queen.

It took nearly 2 years to construct the largest steamboat on the river, by far, starting in 1993 and the ship was delivered to its new owners on May 4, 1995. The paddle wheel weighs in at 50 tons! And, the 84 year old steam engine was discovered and recovered and restored from an American Corps of Engineers vessel named the “Kennedy”. It took a series of short test cruises up to Pittsburgh for its inaugural cruise – Pittsburgh to New Orleans. Their intention was to take people back in time to the hey day of the luxury steamboat passenger boats of the 1800’s. They did it – and it came in around $65 million, which doesn’t sound too bad.

Delta Steamboat Company had issues, and eventually went bankrupt somewhere around 2007. It was said that the American Queen was actually owned by the US Government for a few years and spent that time in Texas, until the American Queen Steamboat Company formed in 2012.

The American Queen is the largest vessel, by far, with a capacity of 430 with about 160 crew. They also own the American Empress, which holds about 230 passengers. Their new boat, the American Dutchess will hold about 166 – with all suites – setting sail in 2017.

The slow, or “shoulder season” is November into early March.

We had no excursions planned for the day, so we wandered over to the USS Kidd, a World War II era destroyer that saw action – and suffered some fatalities. It is now part of a museum, like the New Jersey, back home. We started with the gift shop and then took the tour. It was a good self-tour.

We were told during the evening show and announcements that Tom Hanks was on the USS Kidd this afternoon, too – scoping out the ship for a potential new movie.

We opted for the relatively short Hop On Hop Off Bus tour – basically to stay warm and get a free bus tour of the city – non-narrated.

Back at the boat, we grabbed lunch and then caught Bobby Durham’s presentation at 1:30, “Controlling the River”. In summary, while they’ve tried many things over the years, you can’t prevent flooding, entirely.

Naps, reading, blogging, and whatever ensued for the rest of the afternoon; getting ready for our normal dinner hour. Barry pulled a fast one on me at dinner tonight. While everyone else got this delicious looking desert, I was handed a fork and a spinach and arugula and broccoli salad! – everyone, including the staff had a good laugh – and, yes, I did end up with my desert, too.

Tonight’s show was Terry Mike Jeffries band, which does some excellent Elvis music. We will get to listen to them again tomorrow night.

2016-12-02 Friday – Angola State Prison, a Gated Community

I couldn’t believe my ears – no walk this morning. That’s OK. We had no trouble making it downstairs for opening of the 7 o’clock breakfast.

We landed on a desolate bank on the river side of an Army Corps of Engineers facility. The levy isn’t high enough to scare the river, so they just let it go. Where we landed was a small town called Bayou Sara. The town was totally flooded in the 1927 flood, and everyone moved away and up the hill to St. Francisville, or elsewhere and safety. Bayou Sara was gone.

At 8 o’clock, we boarded the bus and left for our “Redemption and Rehabilitation at Angola State Prison” excursion. Our local guide was pretty good and told us of the history of the area during our long ride out to Angola State Prison. She told us about the Army Corps of Engineers moving in to the site where Bayou Sara was, and manufactured and inventoried acre upon acre of what I think were called “ribbons” big blocks of concrete that would be moved to places of need — how they could manage that is anyone’s guess. The location floods routinely, and the guide said that she does NOT want to be one of the people that goes into that area after the flood – with gunk, alligators, snakes and whatever left over. I’m with her!

St Francisville has a population of some 1,200 people. It is described as 2 miles long and a half-mile wide. Yep. On either side of the cute town, there are STEEP drop offs to nothing. The only real business of note is Granma’s Buttons — as described. There are 3 streets and one traffic light. We were told that they re-shot the moving Bonnie and Clyde here. Hmmm.

The Angola State Prison is quite a distance from St Francisville. There are presently 6,400 inmates. The prison is the largest maximum security prison in the United States, if not the world, and because of its physical attributes (the Mississippi River on 3 sides and very dense woods on the other) it is called the Alcatraz of the South. No fences. Only one road in and out. One guy reportedly escaped via the wooded side – and after 3-4 days, just sat down and waited for the dogs to find him. The prison sits on 18,000 acres of good farm land – it was probably part of a plantation prior to being a prison.

It is known as an agricultural prison. Most of the inmates – generally all men, but they are currently housing a few hundred women form a nearby prison that was flooded out earlier this year – live in military style dorm-like facilities and are separated into multiple “Camps”. They have their own radio station, magazine, close to 20 different religions represented, and a variety of education and technical training/certification programs – in 16 vocations. They even have their own fire department, geriatric section, grave yard, etc.

Most inmates are serving life sentences – and in Louisiana, the saying is “life is life”. Seventy inmates are currently on death row. You don’t get out. Fairly recently, they introduced shorter termed inmates (less than 20 years) that number close to 1,000, with the goal of rehabilitating these inmates and returning them to society. So far, so good. They used to see recidivism rates of about 50% – and due to new programs, they are seeing less than 10%. Wow!

The prison has been implementing a “seminary”-based program for the last 20 years, and there is no denying that it appears to be working. All newcomers are assigned a senior inmate mentor, who watches over 3-5 inmates. Newbies spend their first 3 months in the agricultural fields until they settle in. If you are capable of working – you work – basically a 40-60 hour week. If you earn it, you become eligible to work half-time, and become educated in a trade or other area the other half. They grow nearly 4 million pounds of vegetables, which go toward feeding prisoners here and at other facilities. They also breed and raise horses, train dogs, have a camel that was donated, and run a successful rodeo for the weekends during October; proceeds of which go to their ‘transition’ program.

In the old days, they used to record on the order of 1,500 violent acts within the prison in a given year. That is now just down to about 300. Impressive.

We listened to one prisoner, who has been there 21 years of his life term for 2nd degree murder. Nice guy. He is a mentor and spoke about their program. No gangs. Stay active. Live FOR something, even though you are there, literally to death. It is “home”, so make the best of it.

Angola had a simple, but interesting museum and gift shop – they highlight being the t-shirt that reads Angola State Prison – A Gated Community.  I bought one!

On the long trip back to the ship, our guide played a video about the Angola Rodeo. I think I might like attending a rodeo, but I’m not sure about this one. The inmates are the cowboys and are also in the audience, and the general public audience appears quite interesting, too.

Did I mention that due to budget cuts, the guard towers are no longer manned, and we didn’t see a single guard with a gun.  But the assistant warden assured us that we were safe, being tracked, and the staff is VERY well trained. They also reminded us that they don’t negotiate in hostage situations.

We returned to the ship in time for lunch in the Main Dining room – lamb burger and fries (eh) and a good beer and cheddar cheese soup, and a not so good cherry pie for desert.

At 1:30, Alison and I went down to the River Laureate, Bobby Durham’s  presentation – a good one, where we learned of the very first Pittsburgh to New Orleans discovery into the viability of steamboats on the Ohio and Mississippi – and then the inaugural trip of the first steamboat in 1811-12, which happened to correspond with a 7.5 to 8.0 earthquake centered on Madrid, just north of Natchez, that was felt as far away as Philadelphia and New Orleans. I never heard of it, but validated via Google. Wow! I may have to read the book, Mr. Roosevelt’s Steamboat.

We lounged on Marion and Barry’s patio on the front of the boat – fruit platter, cheese and crackers and wine. Mmmm. We watched a dredge barge being landed, and watched other barges being pushed down river. One was 7 across and 7 deep, for 49 barges, in total – the larges that we have seen to-date.

The American Queen shoved off just before 5. No fanfare, as usual. But, wait! The ship’s steam carillon was playing, no, it can’t be….. Popeye the Sailor Man, and other favorites.  LOL

Dinner at 5:15. The tables are no longer numbered. We all know where to go. Dinner was generally good, or in Alison’s words, OK. Marion brought the drawing book and we each drew our page for the day, and we also generated couples pages – that’s new. The book has become a big tradition on our trips.

Tonight’s show featured the house band and singers with a theme of Broadway Musicals. We generally decided to pass on this one; yet we look forward to tomorrow night’s show.

Before closing. I told you about the twin stacks and the pilot house and communication tower that can be raised and lowered. Well, apparently, Marion and Barry were standing on deck when the stacks were lowered. They are relatively quiet, and came down on their resting spot very close to Marion – scary. At her height she would probably have been OK, but if Barry had been standing there – thunk. They made comments to two different parties regarding the incident. No feedback, yet.

It started raining around 8pm. We heard the stacks go down – although I missed them. I was able to hear them start to go back up, so I wandered out in my PJs (shorts and a t-shirt) and watched them. Woot! Now I can cross that one off my list.

Good night.



2016-12-01 Thursday a true Southern Bell – Natchez, Mississippi

We arrived, and landed in Natchez, Mississippi around 1AM.

It was a more-or-less typical start for us: a power walk of 15 laps, or more than 2 miles. Breakfast in the main dining room. Shower and dress and return to the Grand Saloon for our Disembarkation Session, which I’m not looking forward to.

The day was sunny! – and varied between needing a jacket and not. We had some time prior to our excursion for the day, so we wandered up to the gift shop up on the levy. The owner has been up there for about 18 months, and is feeling good about the future. Tourism is basically becoming the driver for revitalization of this part of town, and she’s in a good spot – if it continues. She had a good selection of products, in my opinion.

At 10:30, we returned with our tickets in hand for our  Southern Hospitality with Regina Charboneau excursion. She is a famous chef (cookbooks, TV shows, and serial entrepreneur, who returned to Natchez and bought one of the Antebellum homes, originally built in 1805 and expanded at least a couple times. She welcomed our bus with open arms, greeting each one of us. The only rules – no rules. We could go anywhere and see anything in the house – including a Picasso. She had prepared some drinks – known as libations instead of cocktails, since we were imbibing before lunch! And a few appetizer and desert dishes that were pretty good. She provided each of us with the recipes on CD, and sold a number of copies of her new cook book – at only $39.95. Uh, no thank you, darling. Biscuits are an important part of Southern cooking, and she showed us how to make them properly, in her opinion, and I’m inclined to agree with her. I look forward to trying this recipe!

The excursion bus returned to the boat around 1, so we had 30 minutes to put some of our goodies away and climb the levy, again, to the  hop-on/hop-off tour bus. We had no pre-ordained plan, so we decided to get off at stop #5, Stanton Hall; then walk to #6, the rum distillery run by one of Regina’s sons, and an associated restaurant next door for appetizers and rum punch.

Stanton Hall was a wow. The original owner had prior homes in Natchez, was ill, but wanted one final splash before dying, so he built and furnished Stanton Hall, in addition to his almost 400 acres cotton plantation, etc. He died 9 months after moving into Stanton Hall. Over time, the Civil War disrupted the life of the household – losing the plantation land as “the spoils of war” and most likely their slaves, so there were income issues and manpower issues for taking care of the household. The home was sold a couple times, and was eventually purchased by a woman’s club (backed by their husbands). They rented rooms, ran fund raisers, etc., to keep it going all these years, since. At this point, some of the “family” furniture and decorations are making their way back to the home for exhibition. It really is remarkable.

From there, we walked a few blocks to bus stop #6, and received a standing tour of the rum distillery by Regina’s son – inclusive of a very small sample. Whew! Then we wend next door to the restaurant for an appetizer and some rum punch. The gift shop for the restaurant and distillery was on the second floor and the ladies came back down with a couple of items.

Rather than wait for the bus, we decided that we had little more than a mile walk back to the boat, and the neighborhoods were pretty good, and it was light, so we walked. No regrets.

Dinner was good. Barry tried the oysters, and in addition to our entrees, we ordered one entree that was a little different, as an appetizer to pass around the table. All was good. We finished well in advance of the show.

The show was a Christmas preview show, starring the house players and band and our Cruise Director hamming it up and having fun.

All-in-all, a good day – totaling almost 14,000 steps.


2016-11-30 Wed – Vicksburg – Civil War History

Ah, what is vacation without Alison getting up early and engaging me in a walk! Deck 4, the Observation deck specifies 6 laps per mile – so we did 12 laps. Not bad.

Along the way, we “landed’ in Vicksburg, a historical community famous for a Civil War battle of comparable historical value to Gettysburg – more on that later. From the shore line, it didn’t look like a bad community, and although there were clouds on-and-off throughout the day, no rain was forecast. Yay!

Alison and I finished out laps and went directly to the dining room for breakfast. We hooked up for the River Laurian presentation at 8:15, which was good, but somehow not as good as yesterday’s initial presentation. People are definitely passionate about their material!

Next stop: the Chart Room, where we were to meet for a Pilot’s tour – basically, the bridge tour. There ended up being 23 of us – more than the 20 max that was advertised – but we all hiked from the Chart Room to the bridge. We was the radar, the electronic identification system, which  identified all vessels in the vicinity, speed, direction, etc. He went over all the knobs and dials, including the gold-plated ships horn (which was cool, actually), and the controls for lowering the smoke stacks, the pilot house, and the radar tower for going under bridges, etc. The tour lasted about 30 minutes.

Marion had left the ship already, for downtown Vicksburg, and we caught up with her on Washington Street. If you eliminated “modern” automobiles and trucks, you would find yourself stuck in a time warp! While the ladies shopped – and there weren’t that many stores in the old town, Barry and I went into a … sort of industrial clothing store. The business had been there 88 years, and the current owner was 84 and part of the original family. They seemed to specialize in specialty jeans, overalls, etc., and inventoried up to size 80 — and actually selling to size 72 pants, and 8X shirts. Whoa, I don’t want to meet those dudes. The guy watching the store while we were there was 74 years old, and going strong. McAllister. Quite a character. Barry got around to asking him about race relations in the area. No worries – no issues. All is well.

We walked back to the ship and caught an early lunch, as our excursion was scheduled for noon. Nothing special about lunch. We met in the theater for a presentation on the Vicsburg Battleground, including a video. All participants were inducted into one of 3 Confederate Regiments and assigned a leader. We were taught the Confederate Army shout, and were put into the frame of mind of being a Confederate Army soldier. Interesting. We were Regiment #1 (aka, bus 1), and as we were leaving the Boat, we were handed a card with the bio of an actual Civil War character. The fate of that particular individual would not be known to us until we got back to the Boat. I was a lawyer by trade, and Colonel in the Confederate States Army.

Our guide was older and passionate about Vicksburg’s role in the Civil War, convinced that it was more strategic to the outcome of the war than Gettysburg. OK, I’m not here to argue! We toured the battleground/US Park Service treasure for a good couple of hours, learning facts and figures and personalities from both the Union and Confederate sides. We also learned the physical lay of the land and the challenges that both sides face. The Confederates won 2 initial battles, but didn’t survive the 47 day siege – ending in the Confederates surrendering to Grant.

We returned to the boat, to learn that all four of our characters had survived the war. Yay! Many thousands did not, and we learned that the Confederate deaths were not even honored in any way after the war. Sad, really.

A quick change later, and we had a cocktail party with the Captain and his crew. That was nice. Not too big; lots of alcohol and appetizers from 4:30 to after 5:00, and then down to dinner. We learned a lot about the captain and his crew in a very short amount of time.

Dinner was good. We keep trying the Southern fare that is presented on this trip, and it’s been pretty good, thus far.

After dinner, we went to the theater to watch the house singers/dancers and cover band. Good show, but come 9:00, I think we were all ready for bed. Party animals, aren’t we?


2016-11-29 Tuesday – Greenville, and our BB King Day

After sleeping fairly well, we got up, showered, and dressed. There was an announcement that we would be delayed upward of an hour due to barges ahead that were run aground. We were only supposed to be in town from noon to 5pm anyway. The mighty Mississippi hit a historic low in 2012, and the feeling by the pros is that a new record may be set in another couple weeks. I hope not.  And, oddly enough, there are high waters in the northern Mississippi River, but that doesn’t obviously translate down south. The result – and I don’t claim to understand the logic – is heavier than normal barge traffic.

Alison and I were up early – big surprise, and had breakfast on our own. We were   randomly assigned to table 70! After breakfast, we took the opportunity to explore a bit more of the “boat”.

Our first “River Laurean” session was scheduled for 8:30. It was good, and we learned a lot about the Mississippi River and its history. Our speaker has been on the river for roughly 30 years – not a a captain, but this was very good.

The river is typically 25 to 100 feet deep, but only guaranteed to 9 feet! It travels an average of 3-4 miles per hour, but is only running about 2 miles per hour now, due to the low water levels. Sand bars very dynamic. The river is NOT tidal, at any point; however, it can normally change up to 30-40 FEET during the course of the year. He demonstrated that with pictures from Baton Rouge with the Kidd and the Paper Clip dock. Wow!

Down river bound vessels have the right of way, and the Pilots basically agree on which side they will pass on.

It’s a BOAT because it’s in fresh water and boats can be loaded on a ship. Good luck with this one!

We have been “landing” most of the time, which is essentially a controlled grounding – and they tie up to whatever is available – like trees. When the boat is tied to a tree, it’s called “choking the stump.” We will not be docking, in a traditional sense, much this trip.

Travel on the river is actually measured in land miles NOT nautical miles. The ocean opening is actually 95 miles south of New Orleans – and Memphis is almost 900 miles up river. If you Google the distance from Memphis to New Orleans, is about 394 miles, or half the miles than going by river.

No locks and damns on the Southern Mississippi, which begins at the Ohio River, its largest tributary, by far, but it’s a different story up North with the Mississippi and its tributaries.

“Tow Boat” 40-60 barges in the spring – strapped together as a single unit. They used to “tow” like done on other rivers, but the Mississippi is too big, and they learned that pushing was better.

Coal and gravel uncovered and rocks from the north. “Don’t grow rocks in the south”

“Wing Damns” keeps the river on course. – river control

Chemical and petroleum.

Grain, contretemps, rolled metals

15 barges equal xxx trailers [INSERT CHART FROM CHART ROOM]

Steamboats were critical to commerce from roughly 1830 to civil war, after which trains and ultimately roadways and bridges took over. Interest has been restored over the past 10-20 years more from tourism, and it seems that they are learning how to do it right.

The American Queen is 418 feet long, and stands 87 feet tall, with lowerable stacks, a lowerable pilot house, radar and communications tower, and flags. It is currently the largest steamship – by far, and houses an 84 year old steam engine, although the ship itself is only 21 years old. The bond draws only 8-1/2 feet, which is basically the same as barges. Ocean vessels on the lower river have a 45 foot channel to accommodate them, but the rest of the river guarantees only a 9 food channel. There is an anchor on board, but it’s not used. The boat holds up to 60,000 gallons of #2 diesel fuel, and 110,000 of fresh water.

That was quite a session!

Alison and Marion had already signed us up for our excursions, months ago, but we attended the excursion orientation session to hear what they had to say, and learn a bit more about what we were going to see throughout the week.

Next up, at 10:30am was Mr Sam Thompson – a friend of Elvis and his chief body guard. He grew up in Memphis, worked for the Sheriffs department, and possibly most important, his sister, Linda, was Elvis’s girlfriend – and a previous Miss Tennessee. This was his fifth “Elvis” cruse for American Steamship, as ambassador for Elvis Presley Enterprise.

Sam and Elvis met in 1972. He was Dany Thomas’s assigned body guard while Danny was heavily involved with St. Jude Children’s Hospital.

Elvis was almost nocturnal – and slept all day to 3-4pm, before waking for a show, or partying or whatever. Sam was at the house the day Elvis died. He was actually there to take Lisa Marie, then only 9, to California to her mother —– and things changed

He left us with story after story.

We were to have landed in Greenville, Mississippi at noon, and we had a full afternoon excursion involving BB King. We also had severe storms in the forecast.

The captain delivered an announcement that we would be arriving an hour late because a barge was grounded in the river and the Coast Guard, yes, the Coast Guard on the river, was actively trying to free it and because the river was low, there wasn’t a lot of room to go around. We took a hard left into a tributary for Greenville, and then learned that the back end of a barge was hanging out into the channel, and had to have a tug push it into shore so we could pass. Finally, we landed and climbed the levy that was expanded several feet higher after the 1927 flood. Wow.

B.B. KIng museum

We finally got to the museum – in the rain. Pictures and videos were not permitted, but we had a great time!

“He’s done it with kindness. He’s done it with grace. He’s done it with class. And that goes further than the licks he can play, or the notes he can sing. ”

We were greeted by an adult brother/sister singers who were wonderful. Great museum. The museum was a LOT bigger on the inside than it appeared from the outside, and it was packed with good material. We were supposed to have gone to a local club owned by BB King for some food and more music, but due to the weather, they brought everything to the museum. Music and food brought to us instead of going to the club due to the severe weather. We tried fried catfish, fried chicken, French fries and fried hush puppies and lemonade. and some good music from a four piece band.

Our Greenville guide was, like all of them passionate about Greenville, but there is NO WAY I would consider living there. Nicest lady, but as she was explaining things to us, all I could hear in my mind was the guy in Forest Gump explaining all the ways to prepare and eat shrimp!

The wild weather struck, as we were driving back in the bus – severe thunderstorms heavy rain and tornado warning. We learned that ours was the only excursion that made it out. All other excursions and hop-on/hop-off plans were grounded to severe hail that occurred.

One quote I took away from today’s excursion: “If you can eat it we can deep fry it.”

The bus got back to the ship about 5, and we got ready for our “formal” dinner. This apparently means different things to different people, but I thought we looked pretty good. Half joke, and half curiosity, I had shrimp, spring mix and a stuffed pepper with quinoa, lentils, etc. and lots of wine for dinner.

The later show starts at 7:45pm, and this was part II, Elvis, the later years. It was another good show by Andy and his band.

After the show, we stopped outside, on-deck outside out cabin. It was still thundering and lightening. It was still raining, but not terribly hard. And FOG, so much that I couldn’t tell if we were moving forward, backward or standing still – literally. So we decided to leave it to the Captain and his crew to get us back out to the Mississippi and on to our next stop.

2016-11-28 Mon – our day of transition

We turned on the news shortly after waking up this morning to hear that 2 men were shot outside a club a 2nd and Beale Streets. About 10 shots fired, and the men were not fatally shot. Wow. The shooting took place over by the police car. The restaurant we were in 12 hours earlier is on the far right.

Sad to say, but even Lauren mentioned that we should be careful in Memphis. We haven’t quite felt safe, all along, and thankfully, our awareness has been heightened since arriving.

2 Shot at 2nd and Beale Streets - 11/18/2016 2:15 - 10 shots fired
2 Shot at 2nd and Beale Streets – 11/18/2016 2:15 – 10 shots fired

Other than that – the large bags were packed and put next to our door for pickup after 8am. We went down to the Heritage Meeting Room for a large buffet breakfast for all the passengers – standard fare. As Barry pointed out, there was one common demographic – it’s an older crowd.

At our table, we had two sisters, originally from Cleveland, OH, who migrated to Southern California to do a one year stint – and ended up getting married and settling out there. The other couple was from Long Island, New York. Barry casually dropped what I’ve termed a “Trump Grenade” – a question about Trump’s election in a public setting, and that started an interesting discussion. The Long Islanders are staunch Democrats, and the sisters openly voted for Trump. We escaped without incident.

Next, we checked-in at the meeting room off the lobby for the “Commodore” guests, those with suites on the boat – I here there are about 12 suites. The person checking us in is a masseuse, not licensed to to nails or hair, on the boat, who’s been with the company since July. She took our credit card, pictures and issued us our ID card for the boat. And, reminded us that the city tour / including Graceland meets in the lobby at 10:45.

We maneuvered to near the front of the line and were assigned to the hot pink bus, number LM435 for the tour. The first 6 rows of the bus were designated for the mobility challenged crew, but “Flying Gazelda”, Marion, sacrificed herself and landed us some good seats. We didn’t actually end up with any of the significantly mobility challenged on our tour, but… we have some on the cruise.

First stop, Graceland. Clouds and rain were looming and we actually had periods of rain and showers during the Graceland tour. You can’t help but be impressed by Graceland, still decorated from the period Elvis lived there, which takes you back to the 60’s and 70’s. They handed each of us headphones and an iPad, and turned us loose. Both the program on the iPad, and the house / grounds / outbuildings, and grounds were well done! All the gold records, all the awards, all the movies, his charitable giving, his music, his friends, the subplots, the memorial garden – remarkable, and to die at 42, was far too young. We even toured one of his two airplanes, the Lisa Marie, and the Automotive Museum. Cadillacs, Lincolns, Mercedes, motorcycles, tricycles, etc, were all on display. And then, we had grilled banana and peanut butter sandwiches, Elvis’ favorite, and a chocolate milkshake for lunch (and the ladies did the shops) before boarding the bus to continue with the City Tour. It was pouring outside!

While the busses follow us down the Mississippi and meet us at each stop, there is a new team of local guides (some professional, some not) that lead us through the local sites. Our guy for Memphis had lived there 30 or more years and was a died in the wool Memphis resident. It was a bus-only tour, and we looped through and through the city, catching all the highlights and history. While I have absolutely no desire to relocate to Memphis under any conceivable circumstance, our guide did an excellent job of showing us the brighter side of the city.

Our tour ended with the bus crossing the bridge to Mud Island, which has recently been developed with exclusive housing, etc. It was raining, of course, but there was the American Queen – landed on the shore and tied off to a tree – yes, that’s right. Our big bags were hopefully sitting in our cabin, so we just had to get ourselves down the bank to the gangway and board with our carry-on luggage.

We wandered up to Suite 503, and loved it. The big suites, 501 and 502, are on the bow, and 503 sits next – on the starboard side. Antique furniture, unique to our Suite, the Natchez Suite, has a king size bed, love seat, dresser with large dresser mirror, and various side tables, veranda doors to the deck, a bathroom, small but very comfortable, a makeup sink and mirror, and tons of hanging and drawer space – with wine and fruit bowl, and a steward, waiting for us. Cool.

We unpacked our bags and tucked them under the bed, and waited for the muster drill. Our steward told us that due to the weather, we would merely have to put the life jackets on and stand outside our rooms on the inner hall. After the signal, we went outside our room, got inspected, and he pointed out where we needed to be in the event of a real emergency – roger that.

Dinner followed. We are assigned to table 70 for the early seating (5pm). Dinner was good angus beef, etc. and lots of wine and various goodies. We don’t go hungry and we like the team that handles our table.

After our dinner, we wandered to the theater for “Elvis, the early years”, with the Andy Childs band. Andy is not an Elvis impersonator, which I actually appreciated. He is a singer/guitar player who can sing like Elvis, but mixes in his interviews with Elvis team survivors and interviews and background on what was going on at the time. The evolution of Elvis, the entertainer. The show was only 45 minutes, but it was very entertaining, and we were looking forward to the next installment.

Oh, and by-the-way, the boat unceremoniously got under way somewhere around 5:30. Crystal Cruises played Louis Armstrong’s famous song “xxxx” when starting a cruise, but this was passive. But, we are on the might Mississippi River for the next few days!


2016-11-27 Sun Day of Rest

One of the quirks that appears in a review or two of the Sheraton were the pipes. Yes, the pipes, and the loud noise they make – loud as in scary loud. Fortunately, people’s showers ended by 10pm or so, and we had peace pipes.

Gorgeous sunrise over the city this morning. Rise and shine!

Colorful Sunrise
Colorful Sunrise

Alison and I went down for breakfast. The AC was turned on and even the wait staff was wearing coats, but we had a Super-Fantastic waitress, and a good experience. I asked the restaurant manager/supervisor how they dress grits in Memphis, and she walked me through putting together samples of “sugar grits” and “cheese grits”. Both are acceptable, and can now say that I know how to eat grits that I enjoy. We ventured out into a very quiet Sunday morning for a walk, but didn’t stray more than a few blocks and avoiding town characters on the street.

Marion and Barry woke and we met them on the 18th floor lounge and had coffee while they ate. It is always good to see them. After catching up, we stopped at the Starbucks in the hotel lobby and ventured out on our walk to Beale Street. It was still cool, but nice for a walk. Beale Street was still quiet, but it was easy to imagine what it would be like on a busy night.

We stopped at BB King’s Blues Club for lunch, including a Po Boy sandwich, some brisket sliders, a delicious paper cup of cole slaw shared four ways, and then banana bread pudding with caramel sauce for desert – and a delicious apple beer to go with it all.

A band set up on stage and we hung around almost an extra hour to listen to them. Great sounds!

BB King Blues Cafe for lunch and live music
Elvis memorialized on the Beale Street sidewalk

Back at the hotel, we stopped at the American Steamship information desk to validate instructions for Monday morning. This should be interesting – our primary baggage go in one direction at 8AM, and the people, depending on class of passenger, go at 10:30 from a particular meeting room – and above all that is whether you are doing the Graceland Tour or not – which we are.

Definitely time for a nap!

Alison and I accepted an invitation to join Marion and Barry for a pre-dinner bottle of wine up in their room. Always fun. Right around 6:30 we wandered down for our 1.4 mile trip to Central BBQ – recommended by two very disparate sources as one of the best BBQ restaurants in Memphis, “where the locals go”. I downloaded the Uber app, just in case. This would be our first experience. Cross your fingers. and either take a cab or Uber.

The hotel had a taxi right there, so we took it. Marion said the cabbie broke at least 3 traffic laws during the 1.4 mile trip! – I counted only 2 before I stopped counting. Central BBQ was a great experience. The people were nice, and the food was good. We each shared half-racks “slathered”, baked beans, onion rings, a salad. And, for desert, we M&B shared a caramel cake and Alison and I shared a slice of peanut butter pie.

How to get back to the hotel? —- NOT a taxi!  The Uber app was very easy to use, and Antonio was there to pick us up in under 5 minutes. Normally an 18-wheeler long haul driver, Antonio drives Uber in his down time. The taxi was $15+tip. Uber was $7.85+tip, and a much better experience. No brainer, we’ll do it again.

That’s it for the day……. Tomorrow is another day, including Graceland and embarking on our American Steamboat Mississippi River Cruise.



2016-11-26 Sat Travel Day

Trips always seem to start off with an alarm scheduled to go off at an early hour — but you’re awake anyway! So be it, 5:30AM was the appointed, not too early hour, and we were basically already awake.

I took a shower and did the needful, while Alison pulled together some eggs for breakfast, and we closed up all the bags after dressing. We had the bags almost all loaded in the car, but we had no Lauren and Charlie! They had a very late night, and were a bit slow, but they managed to drop themselves in the car and we were off to PHL.

Alison and Scott being silly with selfie in PHL
Alison and Scott being silly with selfie in PHL

PHL was busy, but nor horrendous at 7:30AM. TSA Pre-Check once again proved its utility, and we were well ahead of our appointed departure. Starbucks awaited us and we had a relaxing wait for our on-time American Airlines flight. “Group 1”, Yay! But, active military, those with young children or need assistance, Silver, Gold, Emerald, Platinum members, and THEN Group 1 – with half the plane filled, but we had no problems getting on and situated.

Nice flight to Chicago, with more than two hours until our next flight. We stopped for lunch at the Chicago Cubs Bar and Grill, which was a cool atmosphere. We shared a reasonably good cobb salad, and a chicken and sweet pare sandwhich with fries, and a couple sodas. No rush. I liked that. American texted us of a gate change – G11 to G10, no biggie. This was a regional jet from Chicago to Memphis; on-time and smooth.

Chicago's O'Hare Airport is ready for Christmas
Chicago’s O’Hare Airport is ready for Christmas
Cubs Bar and Grill in O'Hare Airport - appropriate, since they are our new World Series Champions 2016
Cubs Bar and Grill in O’Hare Airport – appropriate, since they are our new World Series Champions 2016

I love the view of the Memphis airport – with the rows of FedEx and UPS planes. Being an operations kind of guy, I think it would be a wild experience to observe a full turnaround cycle for these flights. On the passanger side, it was almost a ghost town. It is a reasonably big airport, seemingly on the scale of a Philadelphia, but I only counted a handful of planes in the gates or taxiing. And in the terminal, there were a few people at the Starbucks, but lots of empty concourse – almost like a horror film. Where are all the people? And on the Saturday following a busy Thanksgiving travel holiday. I counted to passanger SUVs and one Taxi Van and saw only a few other cars in the pickup area.

Memphis Airport - Saturday afternoon after Thanksgiving? Twilight Zone!
Memphis Airport – Saturday afternoon after Thanksgiving? Twilight Zone!

Alison had arranged a pickup by a firm recommend by American Steamship. Nice vehicle, nice driver, and it took only 20-25 minutes to the Sheraton Downtown Memphis – right next door to the Convention Center. The only minor hitch was that we ended up waiting about another 15 minutes for another couple, on another flight, to collect their bags and join us.

This was George and Valerie Sotter, from Southern California. Actually, he grew up in PA and she grew up in England. He was part of a Jet Propulsion Lab program for his military service, and ended up studying in the UK for advanced rocket science, when they met. They will be celebrating 50 years of marriage on this cruise. Together with their son, they manage a “non-slip” business. They have cruised the Danube, and loved it, but haven’t done the Mississippi or Columbia River cruises, yet. (we ran into them again a couple hours later, at dinner)

Check-in was a little slow but that was alright. We landed room 1201 – on a corner. We have a larger room – nice – with a good view of….. well, not much, actually, and there is the noise of the highway below. But I have no doubt that we will sleep.

With the time change, it was now dinner time, and we are not really walking distance from a bunch of other eateries. So we went downstairs. The “tavern” didn’t have any visible menus, but the ajoining restaurant did – same menu would have applied to the tavern, but we chose to sit down in the restaurant. S.L.O.W does NOT begin to describe the experience. Our waitress seemed indifferent. We each had different beers, and shared. Alison had a mushroom swiss burger and fries, and I shared a wedge salad (very good), and a half-rack of ribs with fries. I shared the ribs, too. Mmm they were good.

George and Valerie took the table next to ours as we were finishing the main portion. After what seemed an eternity, we ordered coffee and a slice of chocolate cake. It was a good sized cup of coffee. Alison brings her own sweetener. We asked for milk, as there was nothing on the table. The coffee was almost cold and we had to ask a second time for the milk. The cake didn’t arrive until the coffee was gone (mine, too!), and we had already asked for the bill. Alison sent the cake back and the waitress got a goose egg for a tip – the first time we’ve done that in probably 30 or more years.

After dinner, we walked around the hotel a bit – found the pool and the gym – and outside to sample the cool fresh air, but not adventurous enough to extend ourselves beyond the confines of the hotel. And here we are back in the room, and wrapping up the evening at 8:30 CT. Marion and Barry should be arriving at the hotel somewhere close to 11 tonight. We’ll see them for breakfast.