Day 5 of trip to Land of Free & lots of choice

Today was the first day of the ICRS (International Christian Retailers Show). The exhibition hall opened at 8:30am and Janet and I met at 7:30am to take the bus to the conference centre so that we could register. It was incredibly well organised (but I shouldn’t be surprised). When I thought bus to the conference centre I thought mini-bus but it turned out to be a full-size large 52 seater, air-conditioned bus (of course it would be!). The conference centre is probably as big as the CTICC and this in a small mid-West city. American’s do everything big.

And oh, I am now reminded about another insight I have had about America. They are almost obsessed as much with weather as the Brits. Helen just loves the weather channel and so it is perpetually on in the hotel room so we have heard everything there is to hear about the oil spill in the Gulf and the current tropical storm Alex (the first of the season) that has developed in the Gulf. What makes matters worse is that my brother-in-law (Jeff) told Helen last night that you can now watch it online … now I have no doubt we will end up watching it at home too!

Janet and I spent the majority of the day at ICRS and we eventually finished there at about 3:30pm after having about 8 meetings throughout the day. It felt more like 20 meetings and because you end up saying the same thing time and time again it does get very tiring. It was quite an incredible exhibition with around 350 exhibitors. The ‘buyers’ tend to go around with a wheeled suitcase collecting free books, CDs and other items. It is amazing what you could collect over a day and it was incredible to see what some people did manage to collect! Janet and I limited ourselves to things we felt really worthwhile and we either declined or ditched the rest in the nearest bin.

The family spent the day doing some sightseeing in St Louis and they watched the World Cup matches on TV. They also spent some time on the roof of the hotel in the hotel pool. The hotel is 29 stories high and the pool is on top. Helen says the view is amazing from up there.

After Janet and I got back, the girls all went off shopping to a local outlet mall and they had dinner at the food court in the mall. The boys all went off the watch a baseball game – the St Louis Cardinals vs Arizona Diamondbacks. We had great seats in the 2nd tier half way between home plate and 1st base. It was in what they call a club – we would call a box. The stadium is really awesome (had to slip that in) and it is the first stadium I have been in with an escalator. Behind our seats were dedicated catering places just for ‘the club’ and so we had cheeseburgers & fries (along with the compulsory Bud for the men and cokes for the boys). Don’t misunderstand me, the catering wasn’ t included in ticket price – you still had to pay for your eats & drinks. The game started well for the Cardinals (2 runs in the first inning) but then they lost there way and at the bottom of the 9th were down 5 to 3. However, the Diamondbacks made 2 errors in the field which let the Cardinals back in and they won the game 6 to 5 in the final inning. Very exciting and quite enjoyable. While the baseball doesn’t occupy all the time, there is always something happening on the big screen. The kissing camera (they frame people who are then meant to kiss for everyone to see – fortunately they never did it with Jeff & me), the Bud camera (showing people drinking Budweiser – they could have done that with Jeff and me but alas they didn’t), the talent show (some kids who do something crazy things), some good looking girls shooting caps into the stands (local equivalent of the Bulls Babes) etc. It was also incredible to see everyone wearing red (the Cardinal’s color – yes that spelling error was intentional) – there was a hardly a person not wearing red. I was also quite surprised how many women were watching – a much higher proportion than you would find at a cricket or rugby match (or at least it felt like that for me). For Monday night there were a lot of people watching (just over 41000). Great atmosphere and also entertaining to watch my brother-in-law behave like a big kid for the evening (probably what I look like at a cricket match .. on second thoughts … no, not possible).

It has been a tiring day and it is now 11pm and I need to get to bed.

Yours from the Land that does everything BIG!

P, H, S, M & C

Day 4 of Trip to Land of Free & Wealthy

Today we woke up to very hot & muggy conditions in Chicago. We all seem to be over any jet-lag now and into the right time zone as we all had a goodnight’s sleep. As we were leaving for St Louis, we didn’t have any time to do anything today in Chicago except have breakfast and then we managed to watch the first half of the England v Germany game. We had a taxi booked for 10am to take us to Chicago O’Hare airport for our flight to St Louis. We were sorry to be leaving Chicago because we had enjoyed our 3 days there – it is a beautiful city especially in the summer (I have been in the winter and it is a dreary brown/grey place covered in snow).

We were flying on American Airlines from Chicago to St Louis. I had booked the flight on my airmiles and paid only R15 for airport taxes per ticket (not kidding!). That has to be the cheapest flight I have ever taken in my life and I was concerned that there would actually be engines attached to the plane. As I travel a lot on BA, I get to use the First Class check-in etc on American Airlines as well which (in my view helps smooth an airport experience). Paul will call me ‘Ryan Bingham’ at this point (watch the movie Up in the Air with George Clooney and you will know what I am talking about) but I don’t care – it does make things much quicker. We did the self-check in thing and included Janet’s suitcase as one of ours as they wanted to charge her for checking in her one suitcase but I got 2 cases free per person because of my frequent flyer tier. I just hoped she didn’t have any contra-band in her suitcase! Unfortunately we discovered our flight was delayed by an hour due to the thunderstorms around Chicago. We cleared through security (no belt or shoes on) and headed to find our gate which was at the very end of the concourse.

We still had free vouchers for popcorn from Garrett’s popcorn (one of the vouchers from our Trolley tour) and so Helen and Janet set off to find the store and arrived back with 5 bags of popcorn. That became Helen and Janet’s lunch (with much ooing and aahhing about how good it was – I really think it was that good – popcorn is popcorn in my view). Every time I travel through a US airport I am staggered by the quantity of people going places. Chicago airport was just teeming with people with hardly a seat to sit on the terminal. It is quite incredible. If there is one thing Americans know how to do is to travel though. Their airports are generally well laid out (with the exception of Washington) and very efficient. Our plane came in at 12:25 and by 12:45 we were boarding and by 13:10 we had closed the door and were ready to leave. I was also pleasantly surprised by the plane, seat, legroom & service of American Airlines (or at least on this flight). We flew in an MD80 (if you don’t understand the letters don’t worry about – it is a plane with 2 engines and lots of seats) and it had WiFi installed so that you could work on your laptop if you wanted. As the flying time was only 44 minutes I didn’t bother but I hope some of the other planes we fly on for the longer flights (to LA for instance) also have it as that would be quite worthwhile for me.

We landed just after 2pm and my brother-in-law (Jeff) kindly offered to pick us up from the airport which saved us a taxi fare. We had agreed about a year ago to meet them in St Louis when they heard we were planning to come. They live in Tennessee and drove up and arrived at around 12pm today so the timing worked out really well. When arrived and collected our bags we went outside to find Jeff and were hit by the intense heat & humid – Chicago was like mid-winter compared to this. This sort of heat makes aircon a must. As an added treat, my other sister and brother-in-law (Meryl & Piers) had stopped in on the way home from their family vacation in New Mexico. They were also dropping of Daniel (my nephew) who is spending the 3 days with us here (he and Stephen are good mates). We got to catch up with them in the hotel for an hour before they headed on their way and it was really nice to just chat and see them all again (we haven’t seen them for the last 2 ½ years).

Lynne (my sister) had pre-purchased tickets to go up the ‘Arch’ at St Louis and so we headed off to do that together. The Arch is the tallest monument in American and was built to commemurate that St Louis was the gateway to the West. It is a giant arch (over 600 ft high) and it has a capsule system inside it that takes 5 people at a time to the top of the Arch where you can look over St Louis and the Missippee River (St Louis is on the river). When we came down we went to look at the River which is actually in flood at the moment. The walkway on the side of the river is entirely covered and you can’t even get to the jetty where the river boats are parked – not sure how you get out to them at the moment.

We then headed for dinner at TGI Fridays which is a family style chain restuarant. The selection on the menu is ridiculously big – I don’t think I have seen a longer menu. It is actually too big because people (like Janet) who can’t make up their minds just take forever to order. The kids had long since ordered before Janet had her mind made up. It was a lovely dinner with good banter with the family (and Janet). I had Jack Daniel Ribs (those are ribs with a special sauce made from Jack Daniels). They were quite simply the best ribs I have ever had. Ribs can be fatty, or too spicy, or too much sauce – these were just right. Include a few local Budweiser beers (Anhauser Busch – the maker of Bud – is based in St Louis so it was a must to drink Bud while in the home of Bud!) and it was a great evening. It was a short walk back to the hotel where we are staying (Crowne Plaza) and even though it was raining it hasn’t dampened our spirits of a really enjoyable afternoon & evening.

Tomorrow starts the ICRS (International Christian Retailer Show) which is the reason we came to St Louis. Janet and I get to attend while the rest of the family will no doubt spend my hard earned money on some activity or shopping or something. It (the show) is obviously a big deal for St Louis as there were even signs at the airport welcoming delegates and the streetlamp’s have those long flags on them also advertising the show. I suspect it is going to be a major and mind blowing show but I will tell you about it tomorrow.

Yours from Land of massive choice

P, H, S, M & C

Day 3 of Trip to Land of the Wealthy

After seeing Saturday consumerism in action in Chicago I have changed the header to more correctly reflect American culture. We are staying one block off Michigan Avenue which is known as the Magnificent Mile. While the buildings in Chicago are quite impressive and often beautiful, the Trolley tour guide today said it is known now as the Magnificent Mile because of all the stores especially the expensive branded ones like Gucci, Armani, etc. It is just one Mile of shops.

We managed to sleep the night through at least last night. Both Helen and I woke up at around 6:30am this morning and the kids emailed at 7am to say they were also awake. We decided to have breakfast at a very nearby cafe (at the bottom of our hotel actually). After breakfast we finished watching the 1st half of the S.Korea v Uruguay game. We agreed to meet Janet at 10am in front of our hotel and we all went to the Levi store (which had a lot of items at 50% off). However, it was so hot and humid this morning that buying jeans just didn’t see the right thing to do be doing so while we (Janet, Helen and I) all tried on some jeans none of us ended up buying any. Helen and Janet then went off shopping together and I went off with the kids. Not entirely sure what Helen and Janet did because when Helen got back at 12:30 she hadn’t actually bought anything but she had managed to go the Cheesecake Factory though!

On the other hand, we went to the Bose store followed by the Apple Store. We had passed the Apple Store on Thursday but there was a line (they don’t know what queue’s are) to actually enter the store. That is because the Iphone 4.0 has just been released. However we were early enough today and managed to get it. We played with the Iphone 4 which I have to say is much better than the Iphone 3 – it is smaller, lighter and much better looking (sorry Marcus your phone has been supplanted). We also played with the Ipad which really is an Ipod Touch on steroids. Not sure that I would ever seen the reason for buying one of them. They are actually quite bulky as well. The kids and I enjoyed playing around though. It is incredible how successful Apple is in the US. You have to book an appointment to see an in store consultant and by the time we arrived there were no appointments left with one type of consultants and for the other batch (never figured out the difference) the earliest appointment was 3:20pm (and it was probably around 11am when we were there).

After Helen returned we headed out to catch the Trolley again to complete the city tour as we never finished it yesterday. It was an enjoyable hour and due to a Food Fair in the park they took us on a slightly different route which resulted in us having a great view of the city across Lake Michigan. I think Stephen and I both got some good photos. The only hiccup was when the Trolley driver misjudged one of the turns and he went over the curb. I was sitting about half way down and immediately he started turning I could tell he was going to do it. He hit it really hard and there was a large hiss as the air came out of the tyre. That didn’t deter him and he merrily continued on the tour with the half flat tyre. When we got out about 5 minutes later we could clearly see a gash in the tyre. He must have noticed the effect on the handling but he just continued onwards.

After a quick visit to the Herschey chocolate store (we got a free chocolate from the Trolley tour) and then a visit across the road to Ghiradelli’s for an Italian ice-cream, Helen and Chloe headed off shopping (as mothers and daughters do) and the boys went back to the hotel to watch the end of the USA v Ghana game (as fathers and sons do). Helen and Chloe got back just after the match ended and we just spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing at the hotel. At 6:30pm we decided to go and walk down the Navy Pier to meet Janet for dinner. Navy Pier is the place that I spent 2-3 days hanging around after Sept-11. For those of you who haven’t heard the story, I was stuck in Chicago from Sept 11 to Sept 14 after the terrorism events. I was with a colleague (James Louw) and James and I spent at least one day down at the Pier trying to kill time (it was deserted then). Today it was teeming with people which made it almost impossible to walk down the Pier. We found a place for dinner and sat outside enjoying the warm weather and the atmosphere.

The plan had been to stay for the 10:15 fireworks at the Pier but we just couldn’t see ourselves up still at the time (even though it is now 10:25pm as I type). We headed back to the hotel and decided to call it a night. We leave tomorrow for St Louis and have to leave the hotel at around 10am to catch our flight down to St Louis.

Some additional observations about America:

  • Dressing in the same clothes is a must do family thing. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are, matching shirts for boys & girls is obviously the thing to do. Even teenagers and mothers wearing the same clothes. Helen reckons it is because they don’t wear a uniform to school and so haven’t gotten the dressing like everyone else out of their systems. I am a bit concerned that when we meet our family tomorrow they will be dressed the same!
  • If Janet reads your blog, she will take it one step further and get photographic evidence of my observations. She has 2 pictures illustrating my point about women needing to wear longer pants – though both of the ones she has don’t demonstrate the tree stump theory (though she might take up that challenge now).
  • It is easy to waste your money in America (actually really easy). Helen and Chloe went into a store called ‘American Girl’ which is a store for doll (like Bratz etc) but in this store you can take your doll to have it’s hair done (for $25) or it’s ears pierced. No I am not kidding – it is a 3 floor store with everything you could want (and a whole lot of things you couldn’t imagine wanting) for your doll. The staggering thing was that there was a line for the hair salon.
  • Yours from the Temples (and one Greener) in Chicago.


    Day 2 of Trip to Land of the Free

    Last night I went to bed at 9pm and fell asleep at 9:00:15 seconds. When I woke up I wondered why the sun came up so late and leaned over to check my watch and saw it was 4am. I thought I must have in my stupor last night set my watch incorrectly and so got up and checked my cellphone clock as well but it unfortunately reflected the same time. I thought I better get back to sleep again and tried to do that until 5am when I gave up and got up and cleared my emails. Out of respect for my beloved I left the light off and worked by the light of the laptop screen but at 6am I gave up on that and turned the light on. She didn’t stir so I won’t make that mistake again.

    At about 7am she woke up and at 7:45am I went to check on the kids and found Chloe awake and reading her book with the aid of light she had brought along and the boys were still sleeping. Both of them had woken at 4am and 4:30am but they both went back to sleep again. Michael was buried in his bed. Stephen woke up again and we agreed to leave for breakfast at 8:30am. As breakfast at our hotel was +- $20 per person, we set out to find somewhere else to eat and after walking 20 minutes and crossing the Chicago River we found a bakery where we could have breakfast at ¼ of the price we would have paid in the hotel. Helen had muesli and the rest of us had scrambled egg with Applesandle wood smoked bacon (very nice!). All served on a plastic plate with plastic knife and fork. We walked back to the hotel and realised on the way back that everything (including all the shops) only opened at 10am. I was very stunned by this as in SA most shops are open at 8:30am and none later than 9am and so in the consumer country of the USA I was very surprised to find everything only opening at 10am.

    We came back to the hotel and collected our camera’s et al and then headed out to the John Hancock Building – 2nd highest building in Chicago after the Sears Tower (now called the Willis Tower). They say the John Hancock Tower might be lower but it has a better view of Chicago. The viewing deck is on the 94th floor. Unfortunately the lift up (which takes 40 seconds but is the fastest lift in America) caused an onset of dizziness for Michael and so he just sat down at the top and waited for the rest of us to enjoy the view over the city. You get an audio guide which is narrated by David Schwimmer (of Friends fame) and was quite interesting. Once down and outside we had a quick drink from a fresh juice bar and Michael improved sufficiently for us to take a Trolley tour around Chicago. We were the only 5 people on the Trolley (bus with wooden bench seats) and so the bus driver (tour guide) customised his commentary for us and even explained what baseball was when he heard we were from South Africa. He asked why we had left now over the World Cup and asked if we had a Vuvu even. I was quite surprised as most Americans don’t follow soccer (football is something different for them!). This was the 2nd time I had been surprised since arriving – yesterday the customs official asked me whether we had any biltong in the luggage!

    The Trolley was one of those hop-on-hop-off types and about ½ way through we decided to jump off and take another one that headed to the suburbs and into South Chicago. The plan was to get off a the Science & Industry Museum. The tour of South Chicago took us past 2 famous people’s houses – Mohammed Ali’s and Barack Obama. They are very proud of the fact that Barack Obama comes from Chicago and they keep pointing out facts. Both bus trips claimed that Michele Obama met Barack at two different places – who knows who is actually correct! We jumped off at the museum and after a quick lunch in the foodcourt we went to sample the 800 interactive displays. It was like the MTN Science Centre on steroids. They have a German U-boat from WW2 and a United Airlines Boeing 727. They have a Storm centre which shows how Tsunami’s are caused, how lightening strikes, how tornado’s develop etc. It was interesting and entertaining. We planned to catch the 3:25pm bus back into the city centre and when it arrived it was pretty full. We (the strong lads of the family) ended up standing the whole way back (which turned about to an hour) while the ladies took seats vacated by two younger men. Stephen reckons he has developed a blister from holding on (it was my feet and ankles that were, and still are, killing me). The tickets for the Trolley tour give you a free T-Shirt so we collected those and then walked back to our hotel (about a 30 minute walk).

    At about 6pm Janet (Greener) called to say she had arrived. She came in from London today and is attending the ICRS conference with me at St Louis from Sunday through Wednesday (more about that from Sunday onwards). We agreed to meet at 6:45pm at her hotel (which is directly behind our hotel – one block difference) and we went to dinner at an Italian family restaurant. Helen kindly told the waiter that it was my birthday 3 days ago because you got a free Brownie. I thanked her for that and reminded her how much she would have hated that if I had done it. (I have a memory like an elephant and I will get revenge!) We all started feeling quite tired over dinner and I am again battling to finish typing this without falling asleeppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppp (oops – sorry follow asleep again).

    We have noticed a number of things about the US so far. Stephen reckons that he needs to speak to the women’s clothes manufacturers and tell them to lengthen the short pants. He is right – I don’t think you could get shorts any shorter as they would then be called underwear. While about 1 in 10 could wear them, the other 9 in 10 are simply scaring the children in the city (and they are actually scaring me as well!). When you have legs like tree stumps then you should cover them up and not flaunt them! The 2nd observation is that while I knew this before, their small (of anything but especially drinks) is like our large and sometimes our extra large even. If you drink the whole thing you just spend the rest of the day in the loo getting rid of it again. And then thirdly, after driving through one of the poorer areas in the South of Chicago, I was reminded again that even the poor in America are significantly better off than most people in Crossroads or Westlake. This country really is extremely prosperous and the pity is that I am not sure that most people are aware of how fortunate they are (and that is true even after the financial crisis).

    And now it is 21:30 and I cannot keep my eyes open any longer.

    From the Land of the Free and Wealthy

    P, H, S, M, C

    Day 1 of Trip to the Land of the Free

    Some of you know and some of you might be surprised to know that we are actually now in the USA.

    While I said Day 1 in the header, it is more like Day 1 ½ as we actually left on Wednesday (23rd) evening from Cape Town. For those of you who don’t know, it was my birthday (no – don’t bother with late wishes I know who you are already 🙂 ) so I got to have my birthday dinner courtesy of BA. Given the frequency with which I do the Cape Town – London trip, I did allow myself (and Helen because I am such a generous person) a little treat in that I used my miles for the 2 of us to go First Class. The kids were originally spread over 2 cabins but we managed to get Stephen upgraded as well in the end. When I went back on one occasion to check on the kids the chief cabin controller said he was wondering whose kids they were as they seemed remarkably comfortable flying by themselves.

    Helen and I did enjoy the seats and service. There were only 5 people on First Class and 3 cabin crew serving us! The service was ridiculously good and the kids said their service was also good. The food was also some of the best I have had on a plane and to top it off the wines were excellent. The only problem was that the entertainment system hung in the middle of us watching a movie. First it happened to Helen’s TV and then mine. The Chief cabin controller said he would re-boot the whole system (on account of Helen and my problems!) and the kids were miffed as they were also in the middle of watching movies. As it turned out they never managed to fix the system until they called London on the satellite phone from the plane (which only happened in the middle of the flight). I never did finish watching the movie and nor did the kids. We did all get a good night’s sleep though.

    We landed at Heathrow at 6:55am this morning (Thursday) and after going through security again we were back in the departures hall waiting for our flight to Chicago at 11:45am. We spent the time in the BA lounge catching up on emails, having showers, breakfast etc. We boarded on time but eventually left an hour late due to traffic congestion at Heathrow. The flight was 8 hours long but only actually took 3 hours (Stephen told me I had to say that). The service wasn’t great on the flight but we survived it. We all managed to have lunch (which was actually breakfast time in the US) and we all finished our movies and managed to get in at least another one as well. The boys both watched ‘Sherlock Holmes’ (which I had already seen on a flight – worth watching in my view) and ‘Invictus’ (which I still need to watch). Chloe watched ‘Toothferry’ and ‘How to train a dragon’ and I watched ‘Ghostwriter’ (which was very good as well) and ‘Shutter Island’ (which was spooky). We all managed to get in an hour or more sleep as well.

    We landed at Chicago O’Hare airport at 2:50pm (9:50pm SA time) and managed to go through passport control, collect our luggage and clear customs in 35 minutes. We took a taxi into Chicago and even though it was only 3:30pm the rush hour traffic had already started and so it took us about 50 minutes to get the hotel. We are staying at Four Points by Sheraton in downtown Chicago (pretty much in between Sears Tower (now called Willis Tower) and Trump Tower). It is a nice hotel, nothing fancy but it has everything we need – free internet access (very important!), in room coffee (next most important), business centre, swimming pool, fitness centre (who needs that?) etc. The kids are sleeping together in one room and Helen and I are across the passageway.

    We spent the late afternoon just relaxing in the room, catching up on World Cup scores and watching the record breaking tennis match at Wimbledon. At 5:30pm I went to check on the kids and we had 2 grumpy ones who were so tired they couldn’t possible do anything and Stephen who was making the most of the free internet. I forced them (I know none of you could imagine me (being so placid) forcing my kids to do anything but I have now broken that illusion) to have a shower and then we went out for dinner. They improved as we walked and we made our way down to Navy Pier on Lake Michigan (about a 20 minute walk). We found Bubba Gump Shrimp Factory (remember that from Forest Gump? – if not get the DVD) and had dinner there. Nice food, good service and we actually sat outside and enjoyed the buzzing atmosphere and warm weather. After dinner we walked around the Pier and back up to the hotel again. It is now 8:51pm and if you add on 7 hours you get 3:51am in SA so you have to forgive missing words, poor grammar etc in the above narrative. I am surprised that I made it this far without falling asleepppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppp (oops sorry – nodded off there for a second).

    That’s it for tonight … will write again tomorrow.

    P, H, S, M & C all from the Land of the Free