03
Apr
18

10 Reasons to Love Weyauwega: The Ponies!

France has the Eiffel Tower. Italy has Vesuvio. And Weyauwega has its ponies. It has a lot of other things, too, but today we’re going to talk about the ponies.

To be clear: I don’t mean ponies in the technical sense of the word, which (according to our old pal Wikipedia) in the singular–pony–officially refers to smaller, compact breed of horse with a slightly thicker mane than the average equine. Nor do I mean ponies in the fantastical sense of the word, which (according to my formerly five-year-old daughter and a significant number of her peers) lovingly refers to a smaller, highly prized breed of plastic one-toed ungulate with resplendent, multi-color manes and tails, symbols called “cutie marks” stamped on their butts (which are simultaneously the most adorably deceptive and politically correct synonym for livestock branding you’ll ever read here or anywhere) and a diverse and devoted following of obsessed fans.

Rather, I’m using the word ponies in the diminutive sense, as one does when saying kitties to refer to cats, puppies to refer to dogs, or bunnies to refer to rabbits. Or like when someone uses the phrase ‘playing the ponies’ to make off-track betting sound less like gambling or to jokingly convey to the detectives on Law & Order that someone else’s harmless pastime may be in fact a serious problem.

You may be surprised to find horses included on a list of reasons to love Weyauwega. Especially since Weyauwega is geographically part of the Midwest (as opposed to the Old West or the Wild West) and doesn’t have a significant number of living, breathing horses within its borders, the town has a relatively high number of non-living, non-breathing horses adorning its streets, signs, and other fixtures. The perhaps unsurprising explanation for the ubiquitous equines is that the city leaders—past and present—wanted to recognize the importance of horses to the history of the community by adorning the place with images of them at work and play.

Incidentally, a similar phenomenon occurred with respect to the Native Americans who originally lived and traded in the area. Although the city leaders chose to recognize the importance of Native Americans to the history of the community by giving it a Native American name and, later, by designating the Indian as its high school’s mascot, there are proportionally fewer living, breathing Native Americans residing here (.2% of the population, to be exact) than there are images or likeness of them around the community. I’m not suggesting that the disappearance of the horses or the Native Americans are in any way connected, but I won’t be seeking recognition from my newly adopted city any time soon, lest I disappear and/or wind up replaced by signs, statues, or swizzle sticks bearing my likeness.

The first ponies I’d like to present are these four lovelies.

Hitching Post Ponies 3Hitching Post Ponies 1

Hitching Post Ponies 2

Resembling hitching posts, they stand, two by two, on the north and south ends of the central crosswalk on Main Street. Their metal bases are cast in the same shape as many of the lamp posts lining Main and Mill Streets, and are maintained thanks to the generosity of Weyauwega citizens, businesses and civic groups.

Speaking of lamp posts, if you ever get the chance to see Weyauwega for yourself, you’ll want to be on the lookout for these beauties.

Light Post Pony 1Light Post Pony 2

As you can see, these ponies can be found, accompanied by a buggy and driver, atop many of the lamp posts along the main drag as well.

While you’re in town, you may as well drive around enough to see this pair of ponies.

Water Tower Pony

They appear on the west side of the city water tower on the north side of town. In addition to this team of ponies and its carriage, the tower also bears several images that are of cultural significance to the city, just as totem poles of the Native Americans bear carved images that are/were of cultural significance to their communities. For the Wikipedia photo of the water tower, click here.

If you can spare the time, head east on Main Street and hang a right onto Lincoln Street. From there it’s just a few blocks before you reach the entrance to the Weyauwega Senior Village (aka my future home) where stands the sign bearing another pretty pony.

Senior Village Pony

If instead you head north from Main on Mill Street, you will find the city’s largest pony.

Civil War Pony

He or she is part of the Taggart Civil War Cavalry Monument donated by George W. Taggart. According to the Weyauwega Historical Society, Taggart was a veteran of the American Civil War and the First Wisconsin Cavalry, who presented this statue to the City of Weyauwega in 1931.

The final photo in this post WAS going to be of a gorgeous, life-size bronze statue of a horse rearing back on its hind legs. Unfortunately, after spending more than 9 years at the corner of Main and Pine Streets, the statue is suddenly and inexplicably gone.

That’s right. Hoping to provide a photo of the amazing and detailed creation for this blog, the Jarhead and I drove over to the corner of Pine and Main streets only to discover the sad, sawed off remains of its wood and metal mount sticking out of a berm beside the sidewalk.

Pony Stump

I seriously could not believe my eyes. Or my luck. For more than 9 years, folks driving through downtown Weyauwega couldn’t miss the blooming thing and then days—perhaps even hours—before I’m scheduled to capture it for posterity—boom! It’s gone.

Disappointed, the Jarhead and I drove all over town—arousing the suspicions of untold numbers of residents, visitors, and local law enforcement officials—as we searched every yard, driveway, street, parking lot and alleyway in hopes of discovering it standing with its front legs raised high in at its new home. But alas our efforts proved fruitless.

I’m hoping it was taken down for maintenance and due to be back on display later this summer. If so, you can count on me to provide a photo of it all spiffed up and clean. But for now, we’ll both have to settle for this street view image captured by Google Earth in 2009.

Pony 2009 Google St View

It doesn’t begin to do the subject any justice, but I suppose it’s better than nothing.

Meanwhile, thanks for tuning in again for 10 Reasons to Love Weyauwega! With any luck, the items I plan to discuss in the next post won’t disappear before I can photograph any of them!

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07
Mar
18

10 Reasons to Love Weyauwega: Location, Location, Location

I don’t want to leave anyone out of the conversation, so let’s assume for now that we’re all unfamiliar with the phrase “sweet spot.” In baseball terms, it’s the place on the bat where a player aims to connect with the leather and laces. In tennis it’s the space on the racquet with which Venus and Serena seek to smack the neon nylon and nap. It’s basically the area of any object with which you strike a sphere of some sort where the transfer of energy feels and sounds just right. Thwack. Snap. Pop.

In meteorological or economic terms, it’s when all features and factors of a given situation converge to create the optimum conditions for a specific outcome. Like when an entertainer is famous enough to command a high fee to put on a good show but not so famous that he or she can’t walk the streets without getting mobbed. Or when the weather is warm enough to be outside without a parka yet not so warm that one must disrobe completely to avoid drowning in one’s own sweat.

Which brings us to another point about sweet spots: some are bigger than others. In fact, thanks to the advent of wide-head racquets it’s easier than ever to hit the sweet spot these days. At least in tennis. And certain close-combat scenarios where the only available weapon is a Prince Textreme Beast O3 104.

In geographic terms, Weyauwega is our sweet spot. Despite having never heard of the place before 2011 when I started taking the newly-upgraded-to-a-four-lane US Highway 10 (with no annoying small towns or pesky traffic lights to slow you down) to visit my Auntie Chachi every week, I soon began to view the town’s exit ramps as welcome landmarks telling me how much time I had left in my journey.

Even then I had no idea of all Weyauwega has to offer. Situated on the other side of the hill that separates the town (population 1900) from Highway 10, it isn’t even visible to folks approaching from the east except for the steeples of its highest churches. It isn’t until you’ve already missed both exits that you can see a smidge of Main Street where sits the Wega Drive-In and the new Citgo station. As the saying goes: Blink and you’ll missed it

Still, it rapidly became our sweet spot in early 2016 when we started contemplating moving closer to Chachi. Positioning imaginary compass needles over key points on the map and then drawing imaginary circles around those points to see where they overlapped, we found only one town that fit comfortably between the town where the Jarhead worked, the town where the Princess worked, and the town where Auntie Chachi lived: Weyauwega. Thwack. Snap. Pop.

Although we bought our house a bit too late to do Chachi any good, since moving here we still consider Weyauwega our sweet spot. Situated between Stevens Point and Appleton, it is less than 35 miles from an array of grocery and discount stores, home improvement centers, convenience stores, our favorite realtor and our favorite daughter-in-law.

Even more important than Weyauwega’s proximity to all those things, however, is the proximity of our house to other key places in Weyauwega. Like the library (6 blocks) or the firehouse (4.5 blocks) or the tennis courts (4 blocks.)

Impressive, I know. Even more exciting, however, is our proximity to the county fairgrounds. At a mere 3 blocks from said venue, every August we can see the lights of the Midway and smell the scents of the 4H barns from our own front yard. If we want to, we can also watch the 4th of July fireworks from our own back yard. The view is better from the middle of the street of course (at least it will be until the Jarhead gets a good enough handle on the neighbors’ schedules and/or figures out how to trim or poison their trees without getting caught) but I, for one, am not complaining.

Even more important to me than our home’s proximity to the fairgrounds, however, is its proximity to the Weyauwega Senior Village. At a mere 7 blocks from said community I can already see the lights shining on my future front door and the covered porch from where I’ll smell the scents of the 4H barns every August after the Jarhead predeceases me (as the actuarial tables suggest he will) and watch the fireworks every 4th of July. It’s going to be grand. (Not the Jarhead predeceasing me part, of course; the part where I rise like the Phoenix from the ashes of my loss and go on to find the will to live one just 7 blocks from my current home.)

Perhaps the best part is knowing how much money I’ll save on moving expenses when I emerge from the fog of my grief. Oh, I’ll probably have to hire a couple guys to move the big things, but I won’t have to hire packers or haunt the grocery store loading docks begging for banana boxes. I’ll just toss all my worldly possessions into every suitcase, cooler, duffle and dumpster I own, and roll them down the street to my nice neutral-colored, one-story, two-bedroom, handicap-accessible flat. It may take several trips but I’m up for the challenge. And I’ll need things like that to keep me from wallowing in my sorrow.

So there you have it folks: yet another reason to love Weyauwega. I guess what they say about success in real estate is true for happiness and geography. It’s all about location, location, location.

14
Feb
18

10 Reasons to Love Weyauwega: the Neighbors

It must be said that among all the moves we have made, the welcome we’ve received from our new Weyauwega neighbors has been one of the warmest. That’s not to say we haven’t been greeted warmly in the past. It’s just that when you move as many times as we have, you’re bound to run across some folks whose attitudes and actions make you wonder if you’ve chosen the wrong place to live.

Case in point: The first public official to greet us when we moved to our last house was a member of the Oshkosh Police Department, who drew his gun, commanded the Jarhead to freeze, and subsequently handcuffed, detained, and interrogated him right in the middle of our own driveway (for more on that story, check out Mistaken Identities  posted 10/27/14.)  Compare that example with the actions of the first public official to greet us in Weyauwega, who walked over from his place two doors down, told us we had quite a project on our hands, handed me a business card that identified him as the mayor, and invited us to come over for a beer any time we like. Talk about neighborly.

“Well of course he’s going to be nice to you,” you might be thinking. “He’s just hoping you’ll vote for him in the next election.”

But it’s not just the mayor. Last winter, the guy who lives just across the street from us plowed our driveway after almost every snowfall without our having ever asked. We would show up at the property planning to clear the driveway before the contractors arrived and work commenced, only to find it already cleared and ready to go. It took some investigation to figure out who was doing us this tremendous favor, and when we finally discovered who it was, we were even more grateful because this guy and his wife not only have lives and jobs of their own, they also have a toddler with a rare form of cancer. Again, talk about neighborly. I mean above and beyond neighborly.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have neighbors like ours. I recall a former colleague of mine once telling me that when she moved into her home, one of the neighbors welcomed her not with a smile or a wave but with legal action demanding that she trim and/or remove a tree that had been growing on the property for years before she ever bought it. And what’s even more shocking is this: not long after our son and daughter-in-law bought their first home, their neighbors came into their yard and literally tore out a 20 foot-long retaining wall while the ink was still drying on the closing documents. So not cool. So NOT neighborly.

Now, some may assume we’ve been greeted so warmly because Weyauwega is a small town. But having lived in my share of small towns—and in case you haven’t—I can tell you they’re not always what they’re cracked up to be. One can hope the folks there are all sweet and sunny like the Mayberry-ians on The Andy Griffith Show, or crazy and charmingly kooky like the Cicely-ians from Northern Exposure.

But let’s not kid ourselves. Because for every calm, reasonable Andy Taylor there’s a paranoid pain in the ass Barney Fife, and for every philosophical piano-flinging Chris Stevens there’s at least one Ed Gein (for more on THAT guy, check out Turnabout and Fair Play posted 3/21/16.) Besides, to suggest that these folks are neighborly because they live in a small town implies that folks who live in larger towns and cities less neighborly, which simply is not true.

But our new neighbors are top notch, and one of the best reasons to love Weyauwega!

09
Jan
18

Oh Why, Oh Why Weyauwega

According to industry experts, the average person moves about every 5 years or so, for an average total of about 12 times over the course of a lifetime. Like most military families, the Jarhead and I have far exceeded those averages, having relocated from one locale to another a whopping 12 times between 1985 and 2015, and having changed addresses within an individual locale 7 more times on top of that.

Impressive, I know. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

Okay. That was a lie. I’m actually exhausted from doing the math.

You may recall reading some of these statistics in a post I published many moons ago that included other figures of an equally arresting and fascinating nature. Essentially I boasted that the Jarhead and I had just set a record for the longest time spent living in a single residence. At the time, I had expected to occupy that home for quite a while, and was looking forward to seeing just how high we would be setting the bar for that record if and when the time came to pick up and move again.

Well, if-and-when came a lot sooner than I expected. It arrived on September 6, 2017 to be exact. Although we had bought another home more than a year before that, it needed a lot of work and we weren’t entirely sure what we would do with it once the repairs and improvements were completed. Eventually, however, we decided it made sense to downsize and so, after 8 years, 10 months, 2 weeks, and 2 days in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, we officially became residents of (drumroll, please) Weyauwega, Wisconsin. In case you’re wondering and/or are not of the Cheesehead persuasion, it’s pronounced “why-oh-WEE-guh.

Since we began the process of moving to our newly adopted city, we’ve been asked the same question by many people: why Weyauwega?

Oddly enough, the majority of the people asking this question are themselves of the Cheesehead persuasion. In fact, 90% of those asking, “why Weyauwega?” are current or former residents of Weyauwega, with another 9.9% being residents of Oshkosh and other parts of the Fox Valley. The remaining .1% are from out of state and I mention them only to prove that I understand percentages and can add to 100.

At first I didn’t know what to make of such inquiries. Given the derisive laughter that accompanied some—okay, most—of them, it seemed as if the people asking the question weren’t seeking our perspective as much as offering their own. But having passed hardly any time there apart from the handful of hours we’d spent house-hunting up to that point, we had no clue as to what they might be trying to say.

So I would tell them the truth: We chose Weyauwega because it’s 30 miles closer to my dear Auntie Chachi (who was in failing health and who, sadly, has since died) without being further away from our son and daughter-in-law. In short we chose Weyauwega because of geography. Pure and simple.

It wasn’t a particularly sexy answer, but what was I going to say? That we were looking to cash in on the hot real estate market? That we wanted to pay more money for less variety at the local grocery and convenience stores?

I wasn’t about to say any of that to anyone–least of all a potential neighbor. Nor could I cite climate as the basis for our decision. Oshkosh and Weyauwega are only 30 miles apart, after all, and while I’m no meteorologist, I suspect they share an atmosphere. So I stuck with geography.

The reactions to our explanation were mixed. Most people nodded in amusement or smiled in a way that suggested we were naïve. Or maybe stupid. Or even crazy.

A few, however, appeared mildly offended. I imagine they were expecting us to wax romantic about the many virtues of their fair city, like the views, the lake, the boating, and the fishing. But unlike my brothers, we don’t fish or own a boat, and the only views to be seen from our place were the backyards of the homes behind and beside ours, and the feral cats who routinely hunted, mated, and defecated outside the condemned house across street.

A few others posed follow up questions, such as, “What are you going to do there?” and, “Make meth?” Which, I suppose, is an option. But unlike my brothers, we don’t know how to…

I’m just kidding. My brothers are hard-working, upstanding, law abiding citizens. Besides, if one of us were going to wind up making meth, it is far more likely to be me. Everyone knows I’m the bad seed.

Again, I wouldn’t know how to respond. Like the previous questions, I suspected these were less about our personal employment goals than a comment on the economy and/or job prospects in and around our adopted community.

Combine that with the fact that we didn’t really KNOW what we were going to do. As the proud owners of a beige 1950’s ranch with urine soaked hardwoods, bad plumbing and rotten subfloors, which we’d only bought after forcing our realtor (aka El Noble) to show us every single 3-bedroom fixer-upper and/or foreclosure that came on the market within the city limits, we didn’t have a firm plan other than to fix it up and sell our current home.

We briefly considered selling the new one instead. Especially after my Auntie died two weeks after we’d bought it and I no longer needed to live closer to her. But the new house was smaller and had fewer stairs, and the Jarhead and I aren’t getting any younger.

So we decided to forge ahead with our plan to move to Weyauwega. The Jarhead would keep working. He’d just have a longer commute. Unless he decided to retire.

After that, who knows? Maybe we’ll start a business flipping houses. Maybe we’ll get an agent, buy some musical  instruments and a big bus, and go on tour like the Partridge Family. Suffice it to say: we’ve got options.

And now—eighteen months and thousands of gallons of plaster, primer, and paint later—we know exactly what we got into, and have a far clearer picture of what Weyauwega has to offer.

Take the name, Weyauwega, for example. It doesn’t look to me like it should be hard to pronounce, but for some folks apparently it is. So much so that there are articles and videos all over the internet that include it as one of the Wisconsin towns that out-of-staters most often mispronounce. Check out one of my favorites by clicking HERE! Stick with it til the end, and ye shall be richly rewarded!

Although the folks in the video are Texans, the difficulty isn’t necessarily related to proximity. The men in my family were all born and raised in a state with towns and streets with names like Hiawatha, Minnehaha, Winona and Shakopee, but they still have to say “Weyauwega” three or four times before they get it right.

Hard to pronounce or not, it’s still a cool name. According to Wikipedia, Weyauwega means ‘here we rest’ because “the town’s origin was a stopping/resting point between two rivers when Indians had to portage their canoes.”

Seems appropriate to me. Although I don’t foresee myself and the Jarhead doing a lot of portaging in the future, once he’s retired, we do expect to get our canoe on, and to do a lot of resting.

Well, that’s it for this episode. Be sure to tune in next time when I present—

The Top 10 Reasons to Love Weyauwega!

See you then!

22
Nov
17

Road Trippin’ Down Under: Business and Pleasure

Having arrived at the Perth airport with a few hours to kill before our flight home, we decided to hit the business class lounge and see how it stacked up against the one in Abu Dhabi. To be fair, having never set foot inside any business class lounge prior to this trip, I can hardly claim to be an authority on business class anything. Then again, if America can allow a man with no experience in government, no knowledge or respect for the constitution, and a toddler’s grasp of justice to sign legislation, set foreign policy and have access to the nuclear launch codes, it most certainly can allow this novice traveler to critique an airport lounge.

It didn’t take me or my more experienced travel companion long to declare a winner in what the folks at Hanna-Barbera would call the business class lounge-o-lympics. By many miles and nearly every possible dimension of comparison Abu Dhabi was the winner hands down. Size. Comfort. Amenities. Ambience. Cuisine. You name it. Without a doubt, the Abu Dhabi facility reigns supreme over its Aussie counterpart.

The most obvious difference was in the food, which was neither as abundant nor as varied or fresh as that in Abu Dhabi. Whereas the lounge Abu Dhabi offered an array of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Asian main dishes and accompaniments—plus soups, salads, pastries, fruits, vegetables, and beverages—arranged like fine fabrics or gems on stone-topped islands at each end of the room, the lounge in Perth offered just one entrée and two or three side dishes that sat in metal crocks and which were crammed (along with a couple plates of sweets that were so lacking in personality that you wondered if their signature ingredient was Zoloft) onto an 8-foot section of countertop that looked like a hand-me-down from a minimum security prison or a maximum security middle school cafeteria.

Second, whereas the décor in the business class lounge in Abu Dhabi was elegant, modern and stylish, the décor at the lounge in Perth was a sterile, dated, and stale. To put it another way, if the lounge in Abu Dhabi was a set piece from a modern-day remake of the sci-fi suspense thriller “Gattaca”, then the lounge in Perth was a set piece from the 1976 sci-fi hallucination “The Man Who Fell to Earth.” I kept expecting David Bowie to wander by and say something dramatic and cryptic.  (Yes. I know the man is dead, but I prefer to believe he’s simply gone to another realm and can come back again whenever he wants. Like, say, Inauguration Day 2021.)

Unfortunately, what the Perth lounge lacked in style, it failed to make up for in comfort. The chairs were so narrow they cut into the sides of your legs, which makes it difficult to sit for any length of time and sort of defeats the purpose of a lounge if you ask me. But what do I know. As I may have mentioned, I’m not exactly a seasoned traveler.

One area in which the Perth lounge prevailed over Abu Dhabi was the restroom. Like other aspects of the lounge itself, the restroom at Perth was fairly ho-hum. Old, plain, outdated, etc. In short, it was aesthetically unspectacular, especially compared to the restroom in Abu Dhabi, which, again, was sleek, shiny, and ultramodern. It was also huge, and featured multiple stalls, multiple basins, and real cloth towels. None of this paper towel business. It was quite wonderful—provided you don’t like privacy. Provided you’re not freaked out by the attendant who wanders up and down the row of stalls and sweeping, wiping, and/or scrubbing every square inch of marble and porcelain after each squat, flush and wash and who continues to sweep, wipe and/or scrub those same surfaces at thirty second intervals in between.

No thanks. The restroom in the lounge at Perth may not be sleek, shiny, or modern, but it is clean and, more importantly, small. As in single. Solo. Solitary. As in one sink, one toilet, one mirror. And the person who maintains that little room with one sink, one toilet, and one mirror does not stand or pace around outside the door waiting to clean up after you. Call me old fashioned but I prefer to do my business alone, thank you, and will choose the older, tired, and outdated fixtures over an audience armed with ammonia any day of the week.

Another area in which Perth excelled was in the availability of wine. (Even if you are not an oenophile yourself, you had to expect that to be a category. Unless you’re new to this column, in which case, you’d do well to check out the archive and bring yourself up to speed.) Although its food menu may have been limited and boring, the wine in Perth’s business class lounge was not only free but also abundant and accessible. As in right there out in the open, just sitting in these cool little buckets that were built right into the counter. All a body had to do was walk over, choose a glass—clean or dirty, your choice—and pour.

This was not the case in Abu Dhabi. They may have had gourmet level cuisine laying all about the place but good luck getting some wine to go with it. Because I saw not one bottle of wine near the food, nor any near the beverage bar. What I did see was a sleek, shiny ultramodern bar stocked with sleek, shiny, ultramodern bottles and staffed by a handful of crisply dressed and well-coifed attendants who moved and spoke with such intensity that I found them intimidating. We may call them bartenders where I come from, but these people didn’t seem to be tending the bar as much as guarding it.

Which prompted many questions: Why are these people so serious? Are they armed? Dangerous? If I ask for wine, will they even give it to me? And if I ask them to let me see the bottle, will they demand to know why? What if they don’t like my answer? Will they judge me? What if they’re not really bartenders but trained assassins posing as bartenders as part of some ultra-secret undercover operation? What if they realize I’ve figured it out? Will they erase me?

So having wine in Abu Dhabi was clearly way more hassle than it was worth. Score one for Perth!

Anyway, by the time I had completed my assessment—the balance of which I will spare you, a least for now—the Jarhead had already exited vacation mode and was tapping maniacally away on the buttons of his work phone. I amused myself by working my way through the equivalent of an entire bottle of shiraz. I may not have drunk that much if there had been more than one glass left in the bottle when I poured my first, but by the time I got back to my seat someone had already replaced the empty bottle with a full one, so I felt somewhat obliged to keep drinking.

And from there I basically drank my way home. Even subtracting the four-hour alcohol-free layover in Abu Dhabi, it was the longest, highest, fastest, and most expensive booze cruise of our lives, and best of all, we lived to tell the tale!

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07
Nov
17

Road Trippin’ Down Under: A Walk on the Mild Side

Day Eight in Australia was intensely bittersweet. Although I missed the kids and the cats back home, I was already missing all the places we had been (yes—even the place with the bees!) and all the places we would not have a chance to see (Wave Rock, Pinnacles, to name just two) before heading back the States. So, although I was eager to get out and see things, I was also having trouble mustering the gumption to get out and do something because I knew I wouldn’t have time to do it all.

Although I knew going into this that we wouldn’t have time to see everything there was to see in Western Australia, it had now become clear that if there had been a contest to see who could log the most miles and see the most sites, the Jarhead and I would have come in dead last in both categories. Unless you count seeing the inside of your eyelids, that is. In which case the Jarhead would have won hands down.

From a sight-seeing perspective you really can’t cover much ground in just eight days—especially when you’re a chickenshit insomniac with a sleepy spouse and temperamental hair. Unless you’re talking about some small but historically significant town—which you can probably cover in under 8 hours—you’ve got to give yourself more time.

Exactly how much time?

That’s a great question. And one for which I have no answer. Because we lived in Naples (Italy, that is; not Florida) for three years and barely scratched the surface of what there was to see and do there, never mind the rest of the country. The same is true in the case of Arizona, Virginia, California, and Pennsylvania, where we lived for a few years each and found the time to explore but a fraction of what we would have like to have seen. But of course, we could travel to every one of those places two or three more times for the price it would cost us to go back to Australia, which is why I there’s a snowball’s chance in hell of us getting back that way again.

I know. Boo hoo. I only got to visit Australia once.

But I don’t want your pity. I’m just explaining why, as the trip crept to its inevitable close, I was already missing everything that I knew I would never get to see. And so, with only one day left, we had some pretty tough but incredibly familiar choices to make: Where should we go? What should we do? And more importantly, what should we eat?

With our rental car due back in less than six hours we knew we wouldn’t be going far. And since literally everyone we had spoken to about it—both prior to and during our trip—had urged us to see Kings Park and Botanical Gardens—the Jarhead suggested we go there. It was right on the way to the airport from our hotel, he reasoned, and as far as a retired marine is concerned, that’s about as close to kismet as you’re going to get.

I will now share with you some fun facts about Kings Park and Botanical Gardens, which I got from the fun folks at Experience Perth as well as a few regular facts, just for the fun of it.

Fun Fact: Kings Park is one of the largest urban parks in the world.

Regular Fact: At 1,003 acres, it surpasses New York’s Central Park, which comprises 843 acres. This compares to our home in Wisconsin, which sits on 36.8 billion acres, if you count the entire surface of the earth.

Fun Fact: Kings Park and Botanical Gardens hosts 6 million visitors every year.

Regular Fact: Assuming those 6 million people do NOT all come to the park on the same day but at a rate somewhere close to a mathematical average, that means 16,000 people visit Kings Park each day. Even if only 1 out of every 4 of them is driving a car or truck, that means that there are 4,000 motorized vehicles arriving at the park on any given day, which explains why we had so bloody much trouble finding a place to park.

Fun Fact: Kings Park showcases an outstanding collection of Western Australian flora and is a popular place for picnics, walks, and ceremonial events.

Regular Fact: Kings Park attracts an astounding volume of tourists to its outstanding collection of Western Australian flora, which makes finding a place to picnic, walk, or park nearly an impossibility. Tourists who are disappointed by this can console themselves by visiting the DNA Tower, where they’ll find a seemingly endless supply of fun scientific facts but, surprisingly, absolutely no competition for parking.

In addition to these fun facts, the fun folks at Experience Perth offer visitors to their site an impressive list of all the great things that visitors to Kings Park can do there.

  • ADMIRE the panoramic views of treetops, the city skyline and the Swan River.
  • LEARN about the diversity of WA’s flora
  • DISCOVER our rich history along the Lotterywest Federation Walkway.
  • SEE the mighty boab tree, a 750 year old specimen from the Kimberley region of WA.
  • CHILDREN will love the many play areas around Kings Park.
  • VISIT the Rio Tinto Naturescape – a place for children to connect with the environment
  • ENJOY the range of summer events and festivities
  • ENJOY a Free Guided Walk with the Kings Park Guides
  • ENJOY the flora and fauna including wildflowers and over 70 bird species
  • INDULGE in a spot of retail therapy at the Aspects of Kings Park gallery shop
  • CLIMB all 101 steps of the spiraling DNA Tower for spectacular views

As I said, it’s a pretty impressive list. However, to that list I would add the following:

  • RELAX in the comfort of your climate controlled rental car as you drive around for hours in search of a parking space.
  • PRAY that if/when you DO find a parking space that it won’t be so far from the entrance to the botanical gardens that you’ll need to change clothes when you get inside because yours have gone out of style.
  • REMEMBER to pack plenty of food, water, and sunscreen to protect you from starvation, dehydration, and third degree sunburn while making your way to the botanical gardens.
  • CONSIDER bringing a flashlight along so that you can find your way back to your vehicle since it will probably be dark by then.
  • TRY to arrive before the other 15,998 visitors get there. Before dawn would be best. Or maybe even the night before. Just definitely do NOT arrive at or after breakfast time.

With that in mind, I’d like to take a moment to share a few photos from our adventures at Kings Park. Just for fun, see if you can guess how many of the 16 items from the preceding lists we were able to accomplish that day…

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For those of you playing along at home, the correct answer is 2!

Yep. After completing item #11 of the activities suggested by Experience Perth, and item #1 of the 5 that I added to the mix, we decided we could survive with just having seen the bird’s-eye view of the park from atop the DNA Tower. You only live once, as they say, and we were determined not to spend what time we had left in Perth/on Earth fighting throngs of other tourists.

So we hopped in the car, drove to the airport, dropped off our rental car, checked our bags, cleared security, and hit the business class lounge to see how it compared to the business class lounge in Abu Dhabi, and to determine how much free wine I could consume before someone other than the Jarhead decided I’d had enough.

Hey, a gal’s gotta have a goal. Some are just loftier than others.

p.s. Happy Birthday, Cousin Jeff!

 

20
Oct
17

Road Trippin’ Down Under: Cowabunga Kalamunda

Morning came much too early for me on Tuesday. Having slept far less than the Jarhead had over the last several days I gratefully would have slept for several hours after he had gotten out of bed. And while I haven’t sat down to do the math, I suspect I could have slept until noon and not even come close to tying—much less breaking—his record for the total number of hours spent sleeping by an American in Australia. Still, I would have given it a shot if Mr. Sunshine hadn’t opened the blinds and turned on the news after hopping out of the shower and brewing up a mini pot of coffee.

That option discarded, I dragged myself out of bed and left him to plan our day once again. He hadn’t done a bad job the day before, after all, and I didn’t have the brainpower to contribute to a discussion even if we had tried to have one at that point. That plus the fact that I’m in charge of nearly every aspect of life back in North America made it easy for me to let him be the boss Down Under.

Once I had showered my energy level out of the negative numbers and caffeine-d my way into the positives, I offered to let him be in charge for the rest of our stay, and every time we visit Australia in the future. He liked that idea so much—as evidenced by the fact that he nodded absently without looking up from the map—that I then suggested that we divvy up the various potential travel destinations in advance so we will know who will be responsible for organizing the itineraries and activities for all our future vacations. He paid as much attention to that as my previous suggestion, which is why he also gets to plan any vacation we take to Europe, Asia, Africa or South America, and I’m responsible for planning all our trips to Antarctica.

I know. How magnanimous of me, right?

That decided, we packed up and headed over to Salted Board. We had been there so many times by that point that I wondered briefly if we should go somewhere else for once. We didn’t want Chrissy to think we were crazy stalkers, after all, and it probably wouldn’t have hurt us to try something new. But then again, why risk it? So, another delicious breakfast later, we were on our way to Kalamunda National Park.

I’ll say this for the Aussies: they take their parks, wildlife, and conservation in general very seriously. And yet, in typical Aussie fashion, they seem to take them seriously without seeming to take them seriously. It seems almost assumed—a given—if you will, that the environment is a priority, and that the people who live on Earth are its stewards. Unlike in the US where you have some very passionate people striving to understand, appreciate, and protect the environment from those who want to rape, pillage, plunder and profit from it (while the rest of us are left wondering what to do and whether it will even matter so we almost nothing) in Australia conservation appears to be a way of life. Full stop. No drama. No debate. Just effing do it.

And the evidence was everywhere—at least in Western Australia. From the signs guiding you (if not literally inviting you) to all the local natural attractions, to the ubiquitous and well-maintained trash bins that were almost too clean and attractive to be trash bins, to the utter lack of litter or neglect anywhere, the place was seriously pristine.

And yet, as tidy as everything looked, it never seemed deliberate, groomed, or staged. There were no mower lines on the grass, or anything to indicate that the trees and other greenery had been purposefully planted, preened, or perfected.

One might be tempted to conclude that this was evidence of a lack of visitors, but this was clearly not the case. In literally every park, preserve, beach and boardwalk we visited there were people walking, hiking, biking, picnicking, backpacking, and snacking. And yet, there was no trash. Anywhere. No wayward candy wrappers. No discarded bottles, cans, or plastic bags.

Nor was anything broken or missing. In the restrooms, all the stalls were clean, and everything in them—including the door locks and latches—were fully functional. The trash bins were never overflowing and there was always tissue in the dispensers. It was like a neat freak’s version of paradise. Or Oceania’s version of Canada.

Which was mostly awesome but also a bit disconcerting in a Wrinkle in Time meets Stepford Wives meets Supernatural kind of way. Because we never saw even one groundskeeper, nor any grounds-keeping equipment. And yet we KNEW they had to have groundskeepers, who in turn had to have equipment. Somebody is emptying the trash cans and filling the tissue dispensers, after all, and even the most conscientious traveler drops a tissue now and then. And I doubt very much that the visitors are cleaning up after themselves—even the Canadians.

Which made me wonder if perhaps the Department of Parks and Wildlife was deploying nature ninjas to swoop in and sweep up when no one is looking. Or maybe they show up after dark decked out in optoelectronic devices to mow the lawns and collect the trash by starlight. The more likely explanation, I suppose, is that the park employees get up a little bit earlier than the average bear, and take care of business while the rest of us are having coffee. But doesn’t that sound boring? (More likely, yes. But definitely less interesting.)

Anyway, although we’d been in the car for over thirty minutes, our excursion officially began when we arrived at the Perth Hills Visitor Centre and Zig Zag Cultural Centre in the town of Kalamunda. Located between the Kalamunda History Village and the Kalamunda library (in what their website proudly calls the ‘Kalamunda Cultural Precinct’) the center offers a wealth of information relating to the historical, cultural, and recreational options to be found in and around Kalamunda and Kalamunda National Park.

After studying the map and our hiking options, we got back in the car and headed for the hills. Okay, one hill. Gooseberry Hill Recreation Reserve to be perfectly honest. Here we would find a trail that would suit not only our age and fitness level, but also our footwear. Turns out some of the trails are a bit jagged and loose, and since we weren’t properly equipped for anything too treacherous we had to settle for one of the easier routes.

By the time we parked the car at the entrance to the reserve (which, oddly enough, was at the terminus of Hill Street right smack in the suburbs of Perth) I was pretty fired up. I had brought my walking poles and brand-new hiking boots, and my almost brand-new knees. I had plenty of water, eyewear, and sun protection, and although we weren’t exactly about to hike the Aussie equivalent of Appalachian Trail, I was fully psyched. I had survived the hike the day before without encountering one snake, spider, or crocodile, so I knew it could be done. I was feeling bold. Brave. Confident. I was going to hike that trail and I was going to crush it!

And then I got out of the car.

Instantly, I heard it: the sound of bees buzzing all around me. And I mean literally ALL around me. You couldn’t see even one single bee. But you could hear them—thousands of them.

To be honest, I’m not allergic to bees. And I’m not really afraid of bees as much as I am terrified of them. No lie. As a kid, the sound of a bee (or wasp or hornet or anything resembling a bee—including but not limited to dragonflies, horseflies, and houseflies) would leave me quivering in terror. Outwardly, I would either freeze and nearly wet my pants, or run around in nonconcentric circles with my arms, legs, and head flailing in all directions like I was having a seizure, while internally screaming and hyperventilating at the same time.

Like other disabilities, this crippling fear made outdoor activities a bit more challenging for me, but thanks to my dad and his abject lack of patience and sympathy, I managed to overcome it. Mostly. I no longer freeze or have a seizure when a bee buzzes by me in the garden or my phone vibrates on the table. Inside I still scream a little and sometimes need to be reminded to breathe, but I don’t have a full-blown panic attack. Usually.

But there at the entrance to the preserve, I admit I had a mild relapse. The buzzing was so loud, and it seemed to grow louder with every passing second. It was like some of the bees had noticed my arrival, and word was spreading among the other bees that I was there. And they were all plotting how they would attack, and in what order, at what speed, and in which formation.

Standing there, just steps away from the edge of a suburban cul-de-sac with my new Keens and fancy hiking poles, I felt like a dog faced with the choice of staying with the kid who found me when I was lost and the kid I knew and loved until fate separated us. Do I conquer my fears and crush that trail full of bees, or do I go back to the car a failure, foiled by her apiphobia?

It didn’t help that I had just read an article that said tourists are more likely to die from a bee sting in Australia than from a spider bite or snakebite. Because bees are more numerous and less afraid of people than snakes and spiders, tourists are more likely to encounter a bee than they are a snake or a spider, and because tourists typically haven’t been exposed to Australian bees, they are more sensitive to their venom than native Australians are. Fan-tabulous.

Knowing that the Jarhead would not take that hike without me, it came down to this: would I rather make his day and die by a thousand bee stings or would I rather ruin his day and live to tell the tale? The more I thought about it, the harder the decision got. Especially since the Jarhead was not standing next to me awaiting the outcome of my internal struggle. Instead, he was striding eagerly toward the entrance to the trail. With or without me. In other words, my choice wasn’t whether to hike and die or leave and live; it was to either hike and die with him, or sit in the car and die alone.

How’s that for a plot twist?

Well I wasn’t about to sit in the car waiting for the Jarhead to come back from a bushwalk, I’ll tell you that much. It could take hours for me to find someone to drive me back to the hotel if he didn’t come back, and years to find someone who likes my cooking enough to put up with my crap. Nuts to that.

So, bees or no bees, I was staying with the Jarhead.

Which is fortunate, because just a few yards down the trail—as the Jarhead was checking the treetops for koalas and I was distracting myself from the bees by scanning the ground for the shier, less dangerous snakes—I looked up momentarily and came nearly face to face with two kangaroos. They were both adults this time and instead of lounging around in the shade ignoring us, they were both standing upright looking directly at me. Not wanting to alarm them or the Jarhead, I stayed perfectly still and whispered out of the side of my mouth. “Psst! Kangaroos at your four o’clock.” Slowly, he lowered his head and turned to his right. “Oh, wow,” he whispered back. They’re pretty close.”

They were definitely close, but they were also behind a fairly tall and sturdy fence. Still, we didn’t want to spook them, so I left my phone in my back pocket and let the Jarhead take all the pictures and a few short videos. Which is why I don’t have any evidence of this encounter to offer you today. It’s all on one of his many SD cards, which got all mixed together during our recent move. But if and when we find them, I’ll be sure to share them.

Meanwhile, content yourself with the knowledge that we both survived the hike through the reserve and went on to enjoy a walk on the beach and a nice leisurely dinner back at the hotel.

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Another day down and only one more to go. I was already beginning to miss Australia.




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