Friday, May 19, 2017

An American In Moscow

After dropping a pair of confused beagles off at the Happy Tails, 4 hours of flying, and over an hour of driving we arrived in
Moscow, Idaho - home of the University of Idaho Vandals!

  I went with Kathy last week to Idaho to see our son Ben graduate from the University of Idaho. It was not a trip I was looking forward to for a number of reasons. First and foremost even though I’ve probably driven over a million miles in my life most of that has been to and from work so I wouldn’t consider myself much of a traveler and flying gets me sick to my stomach most of the time. Another reason for not wanting to go is that now that I am an independent contractor without benefits like paid holidays and vacation the time I’d take off from work is time I don’t get paid for. Kathy has been to Idaho twice a year to move Ben. During these trips I stayed home with Daisy and Baxter but this time we would have to board them at a kennel which is not something anyone wants to do (including Baxter and Daisy). And did I mention I hate flying!

  These are all great reasons and Ben was certainly going to graduate whether I was there or not but it is important to keep in mind the wise words of the United States Constitution and ‘insure domestic tranquility’ which in my case means Kathy wanted me to go and so last Thursday morning instead of heading to work I went to the airport with Kathy to take my first vacation of the year. Before heading to the airport we took Daisy and Baxter for a long walk with a beef stick treat reward and took them with us when we headed to the airport to drop them off at the Happy Tails kennel. This was the same kennel we were going to leave them at on last years aborted vacation to Chicago, Kathy had been bringing the beagles to Happy Tails for the last two weeks to get them used to being there but the look Daisy gave me as she realized we were leaving her and Baxter was almost enough to make me cancel the trip. Almost.

  We got to the airport and through the very tight security in no time and were on our way to Denver via United Airlines over the Rocky Mountains. I used free internet at the Des Moines and Denver airports. I didn’t want to pay for United’s wireless internet but I broke down on the longer trip from Denver to Spokane and paid $7.99 to use the internet on the plane to play some chess and maybe blog about playing chess on a plane. The internet worked great on my iPod until we took off but after that I couldn’t get email, check stock prices, go on Facebook, and certainly couldn’t play chess. About the only thing I could do was use the united website to make sure the plane was still on the air and possibly headed to the right place.

A side trip to Colfax, Washington - home of Gravy the dog and the Main Street Bookstore.

  We got to Spokane around noon Pacific Time, rented a car, and headed 80 miles south to Pullman, Washington. Pullman is the home of the Cougars of Washington State College and about 10 miles west of the University of Idaho’s campus in Moscow, Idaho which was completely sold out of hotel rooms for the graduation weekend. The highways we took wound through lots of hills and rocky walls of carved out mountains and led us through the small town of Colfax, Washington which had some second hand stores and a used book store. We stopped for Kathy to see if there were any Christmas candles (there weren’t) and for me to see if there were any books I wanted to get at the used bookstore (I did buy “Even Dead Men Play Chess” by Michael Wietz - a murder mystery featuring a chess coach). Even though the side trip was pretty fruitless we did get to meet Gravy the dog who was the bookstore guardian along with three large cats.

  We arrived at the Pullman Holiday Inn Express around three. Ben was still taking exams and we were going to meet him at a hotel in Moscow for a ‘Math Department Reception’ at 7. I didn’t pack a toothbrush so we went to the Pullman, Washington Dollar Tree conveniently located a few blocks from the Holiday Inn Express. The Pullman, Washington Dollar Tree looked very much like the Marshalltown, Iowa Dollar Tree and all the other Dollar Tree’s I’ve frequented with the glaring exception of a lack of a frozen food section. There were a few new items I’ve yet to see in other Dollar Trees and of course there was a travel toothbrush with name brand Crest toothpaste for, you guessed it, a dollar. Kathy got a few items and we were quickly out of the Dollar Tree and after a quick visit to the pet store next door and a longer trip for an awesome Kung Pao chicken dinner at the Mandarin House Restaurant we headed back to our room for a quick nap and then were on to the ‘Math Department Reception’.

While Ben was getting award after award, I was angling towards the mathematically sliced watermelon which was also award-worthy!

  We got to the Reception around 7 and saw Ben for the first time that day. Kathy had met most of his favorite professors before and this was my first time meeting them. They all just raved about Ben’s math ability and work ethic which is always nice to hear. There’s no credit to me in this – Kathy had him reading at 3 years old, Ben has always loved numbers, and has always had a great work ethic. The professors weren’t just kidding me either. Ben had his name engraved on a plaque for being the outstanding math student of the year. I finished the first plate of the exceptional watermelon but every time I got up to get a new plate they gave Ben another award and I had to sit down. Finally, all the awards stopped and I resumed snacking on the watermelon (which seemed very mathematically sliced) until it was time to take Ben, his fiancé, and her mom to Baskin Robbins for ice cream and then we headed back to Pullman for a good night’s sleep.

  We woke up early on Friday and there wasn’t much for us to do since Ben still had finals to take. We headed to the University Bookstore for Kathy to get an Idaho shirt. I wanted to get a souvenir but the cheapest thing I could find was a $2 postcard so I passed. Then we headed to the Salvation Army and Goodwill stores where Kathy found a Christmas candle for her collection and I found a couple of button down shirts which looked great but on closer inspection at home one shirt didn’t come with a pocket which is a must for any button down shirt I wear to work.

  After hitting the second hand stores Kathy took me to a WinCo supermarket. I'd never been to a WinCo which was unlike any supermarket I’ve ever been to. The store had shelving in long rows from floor to ceiling all through the store and the selections of items was truly amazing. Rows of self-serve bins of every kind of candy, nuts, grains, and granolas covered three entire rows. What caught my eye was the giant 25 pound bags of carrots, baby bologna, and Crab Boil Liquid. I didn’t ask whether the liquid was meant to boil crabs in or actually came from crab boils.

Some of the incredible selection of items at the WinCo! Baby Bologna or Turkey Tails, anyone?

  After a great time at the WinCo, it was time for lunch so we went to the nearby mall and settled on lunch at Smoky Mountain Pizzeria Grill. The menu item that caught my eye was the Calzone. “Start with your choice of toppings. We add ricotta, mozzarella, provolone, white cheddar cheese, and tomato sauce, then bake until golden brown”. I ordered an Italian sausage calzone and Kathy had a calzone with peppers, tomatoes, and a little onion.

  And then we waited and waited and a half hour later we finally had our calzones. I cut into my calzone expecting to see gobs of cheese and some sausage only to find there was a doughy mess full of sausage with a trace of cheese and tomato sauce hidden in a corner. Kathy’s calzone was no better and even worse since her calzone had more onion than anything else. When the server asked if everything was OK I said the calzones had no cheese and he said “What do you want me to do about it?” I ate my calzone which was more like a disgusting $10 inside-out maid-rite and Kathy picked through her onion calzone and we left to head back to Pullman Washington for a nap. After our nap we met Ben, his fiancé, and her mom at Gambino’s Restaurant in Moscow for some great Italian food although I was so full of Smokey Mountain’s disgusting calzone that I only felt like eating a chef salad (which was excellent).

  We went back to the hotel but were up early on Saturday to make sure we got to the University of Idaho’s 16,000 seat Kibbe Dome early enough for get a prime seat for Ben’s graduation. We arrived at 7:30 for the 9:30 graduation and did get seats in the front row on the side Ben would be sitting. The Kibbe Dome is the school’s football and basketball stadium and I got to see the banner denoting the school’s 61-50 victory over Colorado State in the 2016 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise.

Finally the graduation at the University Of Idaho's Kibbe Dome!

  Take it from me – no matter how close your seats are to a graduation sitting in football stadium bleachers for 5 hours is a long grind. After a couple of hours the students came in with Ben being recognized as the leading student for the College of Science. After the obligatory speeches and talks the 700+ graduates received their diplomas and the ceremony was over around 12. Ben was headed to another math ceremony to receive more awards and we were all going to join him but his fiancée’s mom lost her car keys right after moving her daughter out of her dorm. Everything had been moved to their house 40 miles away except for some cleaning supplies. Ben went to his ceremony and Kathy and I went back to the Kibbe Dome to get our car to pick up Ben’s fiancée and her mom. We snaked slowly though the cars leaving the ceremony and picked up everything and everyone and then joined Ben’s ceremony which was almost over except for a few leftover ham and cheese wraps.

  Everyone but Ben was hungry so while he took a nap we all headed to the Subway for some American food and then headed to the two used bookstores in town where I got a large book of comics by Robert Crumb and the Indian tribal classic ‘Hanta Yo’ both of which I may even read some day.

Some of the amazing Idaho scenery.

  Ben joined us at the second bookstore and we hung out for a couple more hours looking at books and eating ice cream at a local shop. I was half expecting someone to walk up to Ben and give him more awards but it looked like the awards were over for at least that week. Ben is staying in Idaho for a few more weeks and Kathy and I were staying at a hotel by the airport in Spokane since our flight was leaving the next day at 5:30 am so it was time to say our goodbyes to Moscow, Idaho. We dropped Ben’s fiancée and her mom at their house 40 miles north and continued up the Idaho panhandle on a 2 lane highway until we made our left turn to Spokane. The countryside in Idaho and Washington is amazing with logging camps, mountains full of pine trees, lakes, and deer running all around. We got to the hotel and were out to the airport the next day and back in Marshalltown by 1 in the afternoon and picked up Daisy and Baxter when the Happy Tails kennel opened at 4.

  It was a whirlwind trip to the great northwest and a nice mini-vacation for me. I’m not much for the outdoors so I was happy to have familiar places like the Dollar Tree and the Subway to visit and hang out in. All in all I was happy to have made the trip and the time off work was welcome but my idea of a vacation is staying at home and hanging out with Kathy and the beagles. I guess there is no place like home.