Monday, April 4, 2011

Batter Up!

"Spring is natures way of saying Let's Party" - Robin Williams

Oh that Mr. Williams! Ya gotta love his enthusiasm! Not only is spring saying the party's on, but she's also saying: Play Ball !! And thank goodness for that! It's been a long time since those sad closing days of baseball in October. Yes, I was so glad a west coast team (Go Giants!) won the world series, but it was also a bittersweet adieu to my favorite sporting past time.

And so the 2011 race is on again! For me the season started in March with Spring Training. The Cactus League is home to so many baseball teams it's a baseball lovers paradise. So every March I am off to Tempe, AZ (Phoenix area) where the Angel's train at Tempe Diablo Stadium.

There are so many teams and almost as many stadiums that after several years of only watching the Angel's play at Diablo Stadium we decided it was time to hit some of the other stadiums in the area. So we started with the furthest out: Surprise Stadium in Surprise, Arizona and spring home to the Kansas City Royals and the Texas Rangers. This year it was raining on the day we went but we were determined to see the stadium - and the game. Kansas City Royals versus the Cleveland Indians.

Anyway, when we arrive it's only sprinkling but occassional BIG drops happen - and it's been happening steadily. The infield is covered and every once in a while the players get out on the field to stretch. Those baseball fans that did show up were taking shelter in the overhangs and wearing jackets against the cold winds. What? Wind and Rain during Spring Training? In the greater Phoenix area where the restaurants sport misters to cool off the imbibing tourists? True! How weird is that?

So there we are waiting for an offical call on the game...and it keeps on raining. Rats! The game was finally called around 2pm. Sad, but hey! We got to see the stadium! THEN: I get an email from Ticketmaster (my Personal KarenT hero of the month) says they will exchange our tickets since our game was rained out! Perfect! Guess who they played the next day? ANGELS!! So we spent another evening at Surprise Stadium and got to see the Angels win the game 10-4.

Next day we traveled down to Tempe Diablo Stadium for another Angel game. Diablo Stadium is small compared to other stadiums. It seems to me there are fewer seats and the existing seats are closer to each other than other stadiums I've been to. But a good thing they have is the Designated Driver program. One signs up with your drivers license number, get a wrist band identifying you as a designated driver and you get a coupon good for a small soda. To me that's a good deal because if it's not hot I never need more than one soda. Everytime we go there I do that so Chet can enjoy a beer or two. Not a bad deal!

On another afternoon we went to the Phoenix Municipal Stadium, spring home to the Oakland Athletics. And yes, they were playing the Angels! LOL!!! Think I saw too many Angel games? Never! The stadium itself was a mere 10 minutes from our hotel - who knew? After parking attendees have to traverse a bridge that winds from one side to the other which is really a good way to keep pedestrians out of the way of cars. The stadium was nice - seemed quite large. And as it turns out that afternoon's attendance was over nine thousand: the largest attendance ever at that stadium.

Regardless of what you've heard about Phoenix (it's hot! it's in the desert!) there are many distractions in Phoenix (go to the zoo or Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West) so don't be afraid of making the trip to Phoenix. You might find you like it. But my point is simpler than that: if you love baseball you must make the pilgrimage to spring training. It heralds the coming regular season and sends you away with a desire for more.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railway

Jim & Anne Williams with us in Chama, New Mexico

In May of this year our we visited friends who live in Rociada, New Mexico. Their anniversary was coming up in October and they suggested we return to help them celebrate. They also said they had this little train ride they liked to take occassionally and thought we would enjoy it too.

So at the end of September we boarded the Amtrak again and headed for Las Vegas, New Mexico. THIS Las Vegas is about two hours north of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Two days later on Friday October 2, we packed a suitcase and headed out for Chama which is about 3 hours away. The highlight (and money infuser) in Chama is the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railway which is America's longest and highest steam operated train. It's such a treasure! Everyone should experience this!!
People head east during the last of September , first of October to see the scenic color change in the trees on the east coast. I’m here to tell you you don’t have to go all the way back east to see this wonderful view. Of course someday I’m still going to do that but being able to see the change here in the southwest is absolutely beautiful!

Arriving in Chama is like arriving in 1880. It is a small village with older wooden structures and the steam engine. Two restaurants, some gift shops and several hotels and that's it...well, in the tourist area anyway. The hotel our friends had reserved was quaint and had been remodeled. Our room had older iron beds (with comfortable mattresses!) and was done in red and white colors. It was more than adequate for the one night and I would recommend it to anyone traveling there.

The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railway runs between the Village of Chama in New Mexico and Antonito, Colorado. It’s 64 miles of narrow gauge railway that is a wonder. Steam engines pull passenger cars, a "gondola" (where you can stand in the open air to drink in the sights), a concession car and of course the caboose.

Catching the sights from the "gondola" car

They do run “tourist, coach, and Parlor cars” which all have different price tiers. Tourist class runs $83 per person for the full trip. The brochure says for the Parlor cars you have your own steward where "...personal attendants serve continental breakfast of fresh fruit, delectable confections, fresh coffee, hot chocolate, and your choice of juices" (from ). Not having ridden in Parlor I don’t know if it’s worth the cost ( $139). At any rate you can ride the train half way to Ociers, Colorado and take the train back. OR, like us, you can take the train to Ociers where lunch is served (and is part of the price of your ticket); get on another steam train after lunch and finish the ride to Antonitos, Colorado. At Antonitos you board buses for an hour ride back to Chama. Along the way (either train or bus) if you’re lucky you might see elk or deer or other wildlife. We mostly saw cows and did see Elk – but it was at an Elk Farm!! LOL!! Oh, while on the train we did see three “cowboys” on horseback and we all surmised they were hunters because hunting season is open up there.

The folks that started the railway way back when started in Antonito in March of 1880 and ended in Chama in December of that year. The engineering is amazing when you think about the fact that they only had picks and shovels to carve out the railway along a somewhat treacherous, but scenic, route.

At this time of year the 64 miles of scenery is covered with beautiful firs, aspens and meadows. The aspens are changing colors and are gorgeous oranges, yellows, limes and other soft greens. Some aspens have already lost their leaves and stand in stark groves but still have beauty in their stately stances.

On this day they had twelve coaches and had to have two steam engines to pull all twelve coaches up the incline. The highest point on the route is roughly 10,000 feet but levels out (of sorts) around 7700 feet. Of interest with any steam engine is that they can start little fires along the way. The Cumbres & Toltec have "solved" this by having a fireman (employee of the railroad) follow the train and put out any small fires that may occur (we didn't see any fires on this trip!). The railroad has actually been praised for their efforts by the forestry service.

For the major part of the trip very little civilization is seen. However in some areas vacation homes have been built and are surprising to see. One flat area where homes have been built is actually in a flood zone and the water table is very high. They have no electricity and no water which means they have to have some way to get rid of their human waste. I have no idea what that is…unless it’s similar to motorhomes. The docent said that during the winter the snow can cover much of the houses and they’ve been known to actually have to enter the house through the second floor windows.

I mentioned the docent earlier: there are conductors on the train and volunteers (the docents) who talk to you about the area. They are so knowledgeable and can tell you everything you need to know about the train, the route and it’s history. Being curious about the docents Chet asked one what he did before the railroad. It turns out “Jim” (of Shawnee, Kansas) had been a pilot for 34 years and had been a pre-med student before that. He always had an interest in trains so when he was mandatorily retired at 60 from the airlines he found the Friends of the Cumbres & Toltec Railway: a volunteer group that supports the railway.

Along the route are water towers (some in use, some not) and in a place called Sublette a few structures still exist where a small development had been. Workers for the railway had lived there but with the years declining use of the railway it was eventually abandoned. We actually stopped in Sublette just to check the train and in another area we stopped for ten minutes while they took water on.

The train travels through beautiful scenery towards lunch at a station in Ociers, Colorado. I have to say that for the number of people they serve they do quite a good job - and the food isn't bad either. We had plenty of time to hang out after lunch so I was able to walk (ok, so I still "hobble" just a bit) down to the steam engine and view it up close.

From Ociers we board a different train that continues the ride up to Antonito. I could say the scenery remains the same, but all that means is we still view beautiful scenery and changing colors. We do see more sparsely covered land and it appears dryer but it's still great scenery.
Once we reach Antonito we boarded a comfortable bus and headed back to Chama. This steam train is something that should be experienced by everyone. This time of year is the best for seeing the color changes. I highly recommend this day long trip and give it two thumbs up on My Personal KarenT scale!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Riding the Rails

Did I ever mention we are (Los Angeles) Angels fans? Never think twice about it: we are! Even though a trip to Anaheim and Angel Stadium is almost a three hour trip for us we manage to go four to five times a season. So this year we're sitting at Angel Stadium and we're watching the ads on the board. One of the ads was for JetBlue. We both turned to each other and simultaneously (really) said: Seattle. We decided then and there to go to at least one Angel/Mariners game. But we started talking about taking a train ride to Seattle instead of flying (sorry JetBlue). Hmmm....could be fun we said!

That was before I fractured my ankle, but we decided to try it anyway. Doing this however meant we had to travel on the lower level because I couldn't do stairs yet. And one must ascend stairs to access seats upstairs, the observation lounge and the dining car. But by riding on the lower level we had the car to ourselves much of the time and the coach attendant brought us our meals if we so desired. We had a great attendant on the trip north. Oscar had a wonderful sense of humor and was very sensitive to our (my) needs. Those times we had company we met some wonderful people and heard great life stories. But not everything went well for everyone.

There was the man who had his luggage bag taken by someone. We're sure it was an oversight because he had a generic looking black bag. The bag that was left behind looked just like his. And sadly, there was no tag on it!!! People: put some kind of identifying tag on your bag so even YOU can easily identify it!!

Then: on our trip back the night attendant (different from the day time attendant) did not wake up a very sweet lady at her stop. Not good for anyone in any situation but this lady happened to be 84, traveling alone and had macular degeneration to the point of not be able to see. She was devastated.

It is unfortunate that we all do not handle stress in the best possible way. I know the night attendant was so upset by what had happened that he handled it by taking on an attitude you wouldn't believe. Yes, he acknowledged it was his fault but that didn't make it any better. They put the lady off two stops (and 75 miles) from her original stop and put her on a bus back to that stop.

I called the woman's daughter-in-law and let her know the status of her mother-in-law as mom was led off to the bus. She was grateful and told me of the attitude the attendant had. He insisted there was no one in our car destined for the stop even though the woman told him there was. His response to her? "Maybe she'll wake up in Sacramento". NOT what they wanted to hear.

Tigger 1 and Tigger 2 (on the left) are our traveling companions. They enjoyed watching the California coastline. In 1999 Tigger 2 joined us at Schiphol Airport in Sweden after which they traveled all over Europe with us on the Eurail.

But I digress so I'll get back to the rail trip itself. We boarded the Coast Starlight in Oxnard. They were very helpful and had a wheelchair ramp set down between the train and the cement walkway. We boarded with no problem and our seating area was empty so we had our choice of seats. Going north choose the west side of the train because that's the coast side. The only problem there is that late in the day you get the sun on that side.

It was fun seeing Ventura and Santa Barbara from a different view. And it was a beautiful day so everything was looking its best. Did you know the forest service (I hope that's right) has volunteers on board?? True! In Santa Barbara we picked up two volunteers who talked about the sights and missions along the way. Their talk takes place up in the observation lounge, but one of the volunteers very kindly came down and gave us a "private" little talk on what we would see! They exited the train in San Luis Obispo but not before the lady gave us two stamps (rubber stamp) that you can only get when traveling on the Coast Starlight. Very Cool!

We saw a part of Lompoc we would never see otherwise and lots of cities north of Oakland and Redding we've never seen before. Oregon is a wonder for sure as we started to climb in elevation and entered gorgeous timbers and saw pristine lakes. Then as we got into Washington we were anxious because we knew we were near our destination.

However, viewing all that beautiful scenery takes about 32 hours on the train. I will admit that 32 hours on a train is a very, very long time. But on the whole I give it a thumbs up on the KarenT scale of things to do and see. The sights we saw were awesome and our company was good.

You'll also see little bits of people interaction : little snippets of time where you'll never be able to know the end .
At one station I saw a family of four, looked like Mom, Dad and a girl of about 13 and a boy of maybe 11. They were hugging another gal (big Sis?) as she prepared to get on the train. The boy started crying and held onto the gal. She gently pulled away to get on the train. When she boarded the family stood there all crying. The boy was heart wrenching. He wrapped his arms around the man and woman separately then clung to the girl still crying. My heart went out to him; I was in tears just watching him. I hope the gal gets back to them safely.

On the trip back we picked up a coach mate in Eugene who was headed for Simi Valley! In Sacramento we picked up a very upbeat blind gal destined for San Luis Obispo. They were both wonderful fellow passengers: fun to talk to. The Sacramento gal's name was Karen - gee, something I MIGHT remember! LOL!! She and I talked books - which was a unique experience: finding someone who "read" a lot of the same authors. I have to laugh here because she mentioned "watching" TV. I asked her if she only "listened" because of her blindness. She chuckled and said "I speak visual". Ok, so she "listened" to the same books (that I read) on tape! :-)

I forgot to mention that the very sweet elderly lady (who was not awakened for her stop) had passed the time not only telling us her story (a WWII War Bride!!) but also knitting a scarf. When she finished the scarf she gave it to me!! I cherish that scarf and will always remember Eunice with great fondness.

Even though 32 hours is a long time on a train I would recommend you do a train trip somewhere - anywhere. Several years back my friend and I took the train from Simi Valley to New Orleans. WOW! I always remembered that trip, along with a train trip to Denver that my husband I took. Gave a whole new meaning to "Moon River" (you have to have experienced the ride). So get out there: go do a train trip. Riding the rails is a great way to travel!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Traveling to the LA County Fair

First thing to know is that I grew up in the town that hosts the LA County Fair. So the fair to me is old hat. But I have fond memories of the fair to this day. "Back in the day" we use to be let out of school half day on opening day of the fair. In addition to that we were given a ticket (the small kind you buy on a roll because computerized versions were a long way off) to go to the fair.

During my adolescence I was sooo into dancing that the love of it stays with me today but it never became a driving force. Anyway, our dance group always danced at the fair. You name the old stage - we danced there. When the fair was remodeled several years ago I was devastated because some of the stages changed or were removed. My adult brain still carried those fond memories of dancing on those now invisible stages; as well as the costumes my mother use to sew for me. But a couple stages still exist and I always stop and watch.

My girlfriend and I also worked at a food booth back in the 70's. That booth of course is long gone, but it's a rare occasion to find me eating a corn dog....we made so many! I'll bet she has a photo or two of us...good thing I don't!! I also worked at the local police department and ended up working a couple extra shifts at the satellite police department station maintained during the fair. My husband of 24 years was a law enforcement officer at the local police department and was required to work the fair after his normal shift and on days off.

That's a long way of saying we both have a history with the fair. He didn't grow up in that city so he doesn't share my younger memories, but we both have a certain fondness for the fair. As such we make a journey, maybe it's more of a pilgrimage, every year to the fair.

We decided to go on "A Day for Heroes" because entry was only $1.00 for the "hero" and one companion. Being a retired police officer, Chet qualified for this honor. This year (2009) was a lot different for us because I'm still in my wheelchair for long distances. I can use my crutch for short excursions - mostly around the house. But if you've ever been to the fair you know it's an all day event and a very large event. No choice here except for using the chair!

Our forays to the fair usually mean going through all the buildings - there's so much to see ...and avoid! We try to avoid all the "come ons" and those vendors who want to sell us something we don't need. But it's fun just looking...normally. For me, being in the chair, I didn't get the same views or the same feeling of being at the fair. If you can believe it I actually left the fair not having bought one thing. Now that's something to write about!! Seriously, I always buy something, even if it's just lotion; or last year I bought a shopping cart for all our finds. I don't know what it was but the feeling was different.

Regardless, the fair is a great place! There is so much to see and do, and that doesn't even count all the great food to be had! It's a colorful place, an inspirational place. Going to the Flower Building always inspires you to get out to the garden. It's always a beautiful place and has a great misting system that keeps you cool on hot days. Part of the Flower Building is now a wine garden where you can sample wine or sit at a bar and have a cool beer.

We also ventured into a building that was really geared for the kids. It was a dinosaur building complete with animatronic dinosaurs! It was a great learning tool for the kids and even some adults (or are we still children at heart?!).

This year there is a great art exhibit that displays different types of art from glass work to wood work to older pottery works. There was an informational display about the stone carvings on Easter Island. There's always a great photo exhibit but we didn't get there this year.

We also didn't get to the "Fun Zone" where all the rides and games generally are. The Fun Zone use to have a rainbow light structure to define it from the rest of the fair. It use to also generate the most notoriety. The rainbow was removed many years ago but some of the "old timers" still remember and don't go in the zone. That's not to say you shouldn't go there: I'm sure that's plenty of fun to be had there! And not to worry: there are some smaller ride areas in other parts of the fair for the little ones!

There's plenty of vendors outside the buildings too. If you go be sure to visit them as well - located near the Flower Building. And I can't forget the race track! It's true: there is a great race track there. After hours it becomes a concert zone. They book some great concerts there and of course the concerts are free with your admission. Very Cool!

All in all, the fair is a great place to go for a day. It's usually hot so make sure you bring water. AND wear comfortable shoes because you will be walking - A LOT!! Poor Chet pushed be around the entire fair and was exhausted at the end of the day. And get this: we parked where we always park which means a walk through a tunnel into the fair. It's a mild steepness walking down into the fair. Leaving the fair the same way means it's an uphill trudge. So yes, that meant Chet pushed me UP that incline. Now, he's in pretty good shape but even at that he was groaning the last 10-15 feet. I felt pretty bad - honest!

Wheelchair or no: I still give the fair two thumbs up on the KarenT scale. I will travel to the LA County Fair again next year and I'll lament all the WALKING I'll do. But the good thing will be Chet won't have to PUSH me up that incline again!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Wheelchair Accessability - A more personal journey

This is not my usual "travel" entry but it surely relates to certain availabilities for wheelchair travelers. Oh: and don't be shocked - this one contains some bathroom pictures!

Thanks to a fracture of the leg and a jamming of my shoulder and elbow I have been in a wheelchair, unable to properly use crutches and unable to put weight on that leg, for about 4 weeks. During those 4 weeks we already had travel plans in place many months before the fracture occurred so we figured we would still try to travel. This meant making some changes to our reservations such as requesting wheelchair accessible rooms. What I experienced is that "we" do not fully consider the needs of our wheelchair bound persons.

First observation: maybe it's just me but I believe no wheelchair accessible room should have carpet. Moving a wheelchair around a carpeted room takes a lot of effort! We have wood flooring in our house for which I am now doubly thankful. My wheelchair glides across the floor quite well.

My first hotel experience was a a "suites" hotel in Anaheim. The bathroom was plenty roomy enough to move the wheelchair about. However, the bathtub/shower combination was the everyday variety with no accessibility for a wheelchair bound person. Seriously. There was no bench in the tub to allow sitting down - nothing other than the usual metal bars for holding on to. Since I couldn't put weight on my leg there was no way to get in the tub/shower; and even if I could there was no shower bench to sit on. I ended up sitting on the edge of the tub: sitting on the shower curtain so no water got out on the floor. It also meant I had to sit close to the shower head so the shower nozzle was reachable.

My second experience was a a hotel in Goodyear, Arizona. Again, they missed the mark with the carpet. The bathroom was roomy enough but the tub/shower was not roll in but there was a fold down bench so I was able to "scooch" over from the wheelchair to the shower. But again, the shower nozzle wasn't close. The thing I started to notice here was the sink.

The sink was not out where it was easily accessible to someone confined to a wheelchair. I had to pull my self up over the sink so toothpaste didn't dribble down my chin ( OK, so I do that when I'm on two good legs, but then that's MY fault! LOL!).

Next was at a "resort" in Mesa, Arizona. This one was so close to perfect I had to give it one thumbs up on the KarenT scale. The bathroom was HUGE, the shower was roll-in with fold down bench in the shower AND the toilet had handles screwed on the seat so I could easily use them to boost myself up. This place only missed by not putting the bench closer to the shower nozzle. I had to rest it on the mental handle to reach it. The other miss was having thick carpeting in the rest of the unit.

Wow! The only place I saw this configuration.

Three weeks into the injury we journey by train to Seattle, Washington for a couple Angel/Mariner games. The hotel we stayed at is right across the street from Safeco Field so it was soooo convenient and easy on the wheelchair. The room missed on the carpet of course and the bathroom was just big enough to move the wheelchair around. Despite this I had to give it a thumbs up on the KarenT scale for the shower alone. The shower was not only roll in but the pull down bench was positioned close to the shower nozzle so I didn't have to pull it out and rest it on the metal handles. OMG. Talk about heaven in a shower.....LOL!! If I have to criticize that shower it would be the shower curtain. It couldn't stay in place no matter what. Oh well. And I apologize but I was so amazed I forgot to snap a picture!

I want to make a side note here about the baseball stadiums I've been in since I fractured my leg. First,I had tickets months ago to all these games. That meant I had to exchange the tickets for handicap accessible which was never a problem at any of the three stadiums: Angel Stadium, Chase Field in Phoenix and Safeco Field in Seattle. They were all wheelchair friendly and had elevators for getting to the upper levels. I saw parts of all those stadiums I would never have seen before so I thank each of them for their friendliness and wheelchair accessibility.

During our city travels most people are kind and many people offered to help me/us (remember poor Chet pushed me all over!) in difficult spots. I learned Seattle's Pioneer Square, Pike Place Market area AND their waterfront area are not very wheelchair friendly. Of course these are older areas and they didnt have to worry about the ADA. The street access ramps are small and rough with the street asphalt often broken where it meets the ramp making it difficult to traverse in a wheelchair. In addition many of the sidewalks slant downwards from the building level to the curb level also making it difficult to manuever a wheelchair. I never did find wheelchair accessible restrooms in Pike Place Market. The restrooms we did find were located at the top of some stairs. The ramps to the different levels are way to steep to safely move a wheelchair down. I can't imagine trying to roll UP one of those ramps....let alone trying to push a wheelchair up the ramp. Whew!

A full month after the injury we are on the train from Seattle back to Oxnard. Before we left for Seattle the Orthopedist had said I could start putting a little weight on my leg for short periods of time. That came at the right time because in order to get from our train seats to the restroom was so much easier on two feet. I have to say here we were on the lower level so we missed the views from the observation car with all the big windows. Anyway, I was able to hold on to seats and luggage racks to get myself to the restroom. I have to say that people who ride the trains really need to be more cognizant of the handicapped people who may be on their train. Most people pay no attention to them or their needs.

Back home we ventured out to a local Farmers Market where most folks were watchful and tolerant of my chair. At the local grocery store even the employees working the floor were very helpful and even offered to get something for me that was above chair level that I could not easily reach. Very nice!

So that's my lament on wheelchair accessibility and hope it opens some eyes to the needs of others. I have learned so much about others circumstances that I hope I am never again so disrespectful of others (well, I hope I never was). I am now an advocate for persons in wheelchairs - ask my husband. Poor guy has listened to my rants and raves over this issue. I have actually sat in my wheelchair on the street and watched people WALK by, talking, laughing, but not worried about HOW they're getting to their destination. How lucky they are - and they don't even know it.

So don't take if for granted that you will always have everything you need because circumstances can change in a blink. Take time to make things easier and better for others: you might be in their shoes some day.