Posted in Life, Travel

$199? Are you kidding?

We were pretty excited when we saw short lines for bag drop at the Spirit Airlines counter at Orlando International Airport. Just before a hand went up to summon us to an open scale, I heard a man exclaim, “A hundred and ninety-nine dollars? Are you kidding me?” (Yes, he used more colorful language.) He hadn’t paid for checked bags in advance and both suitcases were over the forty pound limit. That’s not a happy way to start your journey. Clearly, he was a rookie Spirit traveler.

On our way home from Dallas, we found a few seats behind the gate desk. I overheard a man exclaim, “Ninety-nine dollars? You gotta be (add your colorful adjective here) kidding.” His carry-on bag exceeded the 18″x14″x8″ dimensions for a “personal item,” so he was going to have to pay. His wife added, “We never had a problem before.” I subtly wandered over just to see how big those carry on bags were. His backpack was about double the allowed fatness. Hers was an open, overstuffed tote bag. When he pulled out a wad of cash, the agent said, “I can only take a credit card.” His face got a little redder. His wife handed over a credit card and said, “Fine. We don’t want to be those people.”

“$99. Are you ^%$&^* kidding?”

As we waited to board the plane, I watched gate agents tell passenger after passenger to put their unpaid carry-on in the “personal item” size box. They know what’s not going to fit. It’s entertaining to watch people try to stuff huge bags into that little space. Guess what? You’re going to pay.

The gate agents who had to deal with all of that were well trained. They had awesome people skills. Good thing, because they had to deal with a lot of challenging people.

One of my new hobbies is travel hacking, figuring out how to make the most of cheap fares. I am amazed at how roomy a 17″x13″x7″ backpack can be. My wife and I both had one of those and one checked bag. Sweet.

So here’s some of what I’ve learned about traveling cheaply:

  • If your travel days are flexible, you’ll save money. Some days are cheaper than others. That’s just the way it is.
  • If you must check or carry on a large bag on Spirit or Frontier, pay for it when you book your flight. You’ll get the lowest price.
  • Buy a backpack or roller bag within the personal item guidelines. It will hold so much more than you think. Ladies, pack an empty purse inside your personal item and load it when you arrive.
  • Lay out everything you want to pack. Put half of it back in the closet and dresser. You’ll be fine. You can wear some clothes two times.
  • Buy your toiletries when you get to your destination. Our Airbnb had soap, shampoo, conditioner, and toothpaste in the bathroom.
  • Wear your jacket and hat. Put stuff in your pockets. Once you’re on the plane, stash them away. No need to take up luggage space.

This time, our flights were the cheapest part of our last trip to Dallas to see my son and his family. Next up: reign in the cost of a rental car, which is getting ridiculous.

Posted in Stories, Travel


On our return flight from Dallas (see Back in the Air), my wife and I had middle seats across the aisle from each other on American Airlines. When I asked at the gate if we could sit together, the agent said, “Sure,” and then quoted me some upgrade costs. No thank you. The direct flight to Jacksonville, FL was just a few hours. How bad could it be?

My seat was between a woman and a young man that I believe were mother and son. I wish they had sat together because the mom had a lot to say to her son, who just wanted to sleep. I brought up a book on my phone’s Kindle app and read until the drinks and pretzels reached our row.

The son asked for a Dr. Pepper. I had some ice water. The mom had a can of tomato juice which she poured over a cup of ice. For the next fifteen minutes, like clockwork, she loudly sipped and slurped her tomato juice.


“Look at this video on my phone. It’s so real.”

<loud slurp>

“It’s so clear.”

<louder slurp>

“Do you want one? We can up grade for free. From 11 to 13.” OK, we’re obviously in the iPhone universe. She had a new 13, he had an 11. (I have a 10, by the way.)

“No thanks.”

<even louder slurp>

“It’s free. You can trade yours in.”

“I’m fine. I don’t need one.”

<still louder slurp>

“What about your other phone? You can trade it in.”

“I’m fine.”

<really loud slurp>

“You could get four or five hundred dollars for it.”

“I don’t need the money. I’m fine.”

<loudest slurp>

“It’s four hundred dollars.”

“I don’t need the money. I’m fine.”

<longer, louder slurp>

“OK. Just let me know.”

<loudest, longest slurp>

She looked out the window. He turned toward the aisle and tried to go to sleep. She wasn’t comfortable for the rest of the flight, about thirty minutes. She pulled her legs up to her chest. She stretched out as best she Over and over and over, about every two minutes.

So they weren’t the most annoying row-mates I’ve ever had. They weren’t the friendliest, either.

As we deplaned, she walked ahead, he lagged behind. She was on a mission to get to baggage claim. He was clearly in no hurry to join her.

I hope you two enjoyed your ride together to your next destination!

Posted in Travel

A rainbow dress on Rainbow Row

When my wife and I went to Charleston, SC in September, we got down to Rainbow Row in the historic district of the city on East Bay Street. As we stopped to take pictures from across the street, we just happened to catch this young lady wearing a dress to match the colors of the row homes.

My brother looked up a few of the house values along that street. All were upwards of $2 million. But a rainbow dress on Rainbow Row? Priceless.

Posted in Travel

Good to see you again, Big Tex!

We got to Texas just in time to attend one of the last days of the Texas State Fair. We last went five years ago and I was itching for a little fair food.

Since it was Saturday, the fairgrounds in the heart of Dallas were only a thirty minute drive from our Airbnb in Rowlett. We picked up three of our grandchildren and headed out in a wonderful fall-feeling fifty degree morning.

We found a $20 parking spot in a convenience store lot just across the street from gate 5. Just about anyone with some blacktop was running a $20 parking business in the surrounding area. There was no line to buy 2 senior (yes, we both qualified), 2 child and one (free) toddler ticket for admission. We were already in for about $100, and we had just arrived. Going to the fair is not a cheap date.

Our first stop was a children’s aquarium, promising sharks and sting rays. (Oh, by the way, that was a separate admission price.) It was actually a nice collection of fish and sharks, and we did get to pet some baby sting rays. We also dipped our hands into a tank filled with doctor fish that gently pecked away at the dead skin on our hands.

Our seven year old, Eden, wanted to ride the huge ferris wheel, so she and my wife got in line. I bought a bunch of coupons for rides and food and gave them twenty for the ride (BTW, coupons are $1 each), while I took the other two off to grab some corn dogs. After they quickly disappeared, we headed to the cattle barns.

Inside one of the cattle barns

As with any good state fair, the livestock barns are enormous. We walked through stall after stall of beautiful cows being cleaned and prepped for showing that day. They were the best of the best. The ferris wheel riders met us at the swine barn, where we saw the best hogs from around the state. The champion boar, weighing in at 1155 pounds, was sound asleep in his pen out side the barn.

Boris, 1155 lb. champion boar

By now everyone was hungry again, so I rounded up two more corn dogs, some lemonade, a burger and an huge plate full of french fries. Fully fueled we made our way back to the birthing barns.

The birthing barns were cool. We saw several calfs born that morning as well as litters of hogs from the past few weeks of the fair. A few goats were about to give birth, too. This was a very popular and crowded venue.

Bull born that morning

From there we walked through some shopping booths, filled with lots of unique jewelry, clothing and toys. By this time, we had done a lot of walking and still needed to see Big Tex, so we made our way back towards the gate where we came in. By mid-afternoon, the fair was crowded, but we made it to the big guy. We did lots of walking, but the kids (and the grands) took it in stride.

On our way out, people continued to stream in the gates. Cancelled in 2020, this year’s fair was expecting 2.5 million visitors over twenty-four days, taking in over $65 million dollars and generating close to $500 million of business for the community. It is the biggest state fair in the country.

Just one of the grills with the biggest turkey legs I’ve ever seen
Posted in Stories, Travel

Blase Family Farm Pumpkin Patch

Today’s outing took us to Rockwall, TX, for a visit to the pumpkin patch at the Blase Family Farm. We had been there before, probably five years ago. It’s an interesting drive to get there. You drive through some really nice neighborhoods filled with beautiful, large brick homes. Suddenly, you see the sign, pull into a gravel lot and you are at the entrance of the farm, just across the street from a gorgeous housing addition.

My daughter-in-law had made advance reservations. They are still limiting admission to ensure a little social distancing. The $9 admission did include a hayride, food for the petting zoo, and a take-home pumpkin. Not a bad deal.

Pumpkins were scattered all over the several acres open to visitors. Lots of sitting areas were set up for family photos. I am not sure if they actually grow the pumpkins on the farm, or bring them in from elsewhere. But this is a popular annual event in the area.

We headed straight for the petting zoo. The first pen contained two llamas. One dominant one bullied the other and hogged all the food. So we distracted him and fed the less aggressive one. Next in line was a pen full of sheep, including one black one. A few little pigs were happy to see us and a donkey brayed until someone paid attention to him. We came back later and made a second round of all the animals.

The hay maze was down the hill from the welcome barn. It wasn’t much of a maze, but it kept a lot of kids busy for a long time running and jumping across the bales of hay.

The hay ride was a nice jog through some of the farm and past the blueberry part of the farm. The blueberry bushes were all in individual planters, much different than the farms I’ve seen in Florida. Along the way, lots of hay bales were decorated in halloween themes.

A little trail off to the side was lined with signs telling the story of Spookley the Square Pumpkin. I think his story is one to support anti-bullying. The older kids liked flexing their newly developed reading skills for us.

By the time we left, this popular pumpkin patch was filled with families. The whole idea of a “pumpkin patch” is an interesting business. My college fraternity used to frequent them each fall in Lancaster, PA. However, when we went, it was always dark and we didn’t exactly pay admission. But that’s another story.

Posted in Travel

Back in the air

For the first time in more than two years, my wife and I took a flight for our latest trip to Texas to see our son and his family. Our last flight was to Israel in September of 2019. We had been doing a lot of driving, but decided it was time to get back in the air.

Everyone was wearing masks, as required by the airports and airlines. I didn’t hear anyone complain or make a fuss. We both had some comfortable masks that I had bought at Home Depot, of all places. However, when we finally got into our rental car, we were glad to be done with them. All the people in the pre-flight safety videos were wearing masks, too.

At first it felt very strange to be back in the airport after such a long time away. The lines were not long and the concourses really weren’t very crowded. I guess Thursday noon isn’t the busiest travel time of the week.

It didn’t take long for me to remember how much I like watching people at the airport. I commented to my wife that eighty percent of the people dress like they do on any other day. But the other twenty percent wear clothes you never, ever see outside of the airport. Outrageous bold colors and prints, outfits that look more like pajamas than street clothes, very tight dresses, and shoes that look extremely uncomfortable.

Both of our flights were completely full. The flight attendant hands you a small disinfectant wipe packet as you board the plane, to either clean your hands or wipe down your seat and tray, I guess. A man across the aisle from us had brought a spray bottle of disinfectant, and sprayed down everything in his row.

Believe it or not, many travelers attempt to carry on even more than they did before. A man ahead of me carried on a suitcase and two backpacks. No wonder the overhead compartments fill up before the plane does. I enjoy the freedom of traveling very lightly, carrying as little as I possibly can.

Our flights to Texas were all on time. The only delay came at the car rental desk, where everyone, including us, had reserved a car from Budget. All the other desks were just about empty. I waited about an hour to get our car. And then after we were just about to pull out, a woman knocked on our window. Another agent had assigned her the same care. She went back in. We quickly pulled away.

Easily the most interesting guy I saw at the Jacksonville, FL airport today.

Posted in Travel

One boot

Photo by Leonel Heisenberg on Unsplash

We must have walked by her five times. She was working in a small street corner kiosk selling carriage rides around Charleston for Charleston Carriage Works. Just part of the scenery. Until we decided we wanted to take a carriage ride around historic Charleston, South Carolina. We saw carriage after carriage passing us as we walked around. We wanted to hear about the area and the city from the guides, too!

My sister stepped up to reserve a carriage ride, leaving in just 20 minutes. We could head down to the stable any time. As my sister talked with the salesperson, I noticed she was wearing one cowboy boot and one broken ankle boot. Interesting. After we had booked our ride, I said to her, “You’re only wearing one boot. How are you doing?”

She replied, “Good eye! I had surgery a few weeks ago, so I have to wear this boot, so I don’t put too much weight on it. I still have four to five weeks of healing to go. Thanks for asking!” Everyone want to be inconspicuous and noticed all at the same time. Her job made sense. Don’t have to walk much. Generate lots of business for the carriage drivers.

I noticed she was wearing a boot company t-shirt, too. Doubling down with the tourists. Smart. Very smart.

By the way, I really enjoy our ride with Will and his horse named Mikey. A carriage ride is always a fun way to see a city.

Posted in Travel

Historic Charleston Market

My wife and I spent a couple of days in Charleston, SC last week as part of the birthday celebrations for her and my sister. We had never been to Charleston, so it was a fun adventure that included a visit to the historic Charleston Market. The Charleston Market is a 200-year old brick market building filled with craft and food vendors. As we wandered through I especially appreciated many handcrafted items I hadn’t seen anywhere else.

I was fascinated by the wide variety of sweetgrass woven crafts. I was even more interested in watching the weaving happen right before my eyes. The crafters made every sort of basket you can imagine, in addition to wall hangings of every shape and size.

One artisan specialized in polymer clay pictures of egrets, crabs, turtles and lighthouses. Many of the works for sale were prints, but some original works were for sale, too. I looked closely at one and wondered, “Is that fabric?” The nice young lady working the booth explained that it was very thin clay crafted into unique works of art by the artist. I had never seen that before.

We happened across a young woman who had just procured a spot from which to sell her vegan mini-muffins. She was so proud of her work! We loved Emily’s muffins (@emilyeldh or themuffindrop on Instagram) and brought home half a dozen.

One sign puzzled me. “Please do not buy from roaming rose peddlers.” Then I saw one outside the exit. A young man weaving palm fronds into roses was actively marketing them on the street. Once it was in your hand, it was yours, for a price.

My brother and sister were especially interested in a booth that featured elaborate cross stitch renderings of famous Charleston places like Rainbow Row. I think they bought some Christmas gifts there.

The market was not crowded on the Monday morning we visited. Many of the booths had signs announcing “no photographs” so that no one would steal their ideas for painted tiles, handmade jewelry, hand-carved wooden plaques, and dog breed pillows. I was tempted. But I refrained.

I like the venues where I can talk to the artisans and learn something about them and their craft. I wonder what I could sell at a booth like that?

Posted in camping, Travel

It’s just for one night

We were on our way back home after camping for a week at Lake Tawanoki State Park, just a bit west of Dallas, TX. I decided I wanted to try and drive a little longer on day one. After doing a little online research, I made a reservation at Askew’s Landing Campground near Edwards, Mississippi. It had mostly positive reviews and the woman who answered the phone was very nice, so I thought it would be fine for an overnight.

About half-an-hour west of Monroe, Louisiana, I got a call from the campground. The power company had been at work all week, and they didn’t know when power would be back on. If it were a little cooler, I would have considered a stay there. No AC in the boiling hot midsummer was not an option. I told her we would find another RV park.

On the way out we stayed at Ouachita RV park in Monroe. In expensive, pull-though sites, pretty clean and fine for an overnight stay. So I called them. Three calls all went to voice mail. So I checked of my Dyrt and Campendium phone apps. There aren’t a whole lot of RV parks out across I-20 in Louisiana and Mississippi. But I came across Pecanland RV park in Monroe. When I called them, they had a couple of pull-through, full-hookup sites available that night, so I made a reservation. Not many reviews online, but it was only $28, and it was just for the night.

Well, the sign was nice. The park was as plain vanilla as could be. Row after row of empty concrete pads. Further back were rows of well-lived in trailer homes. Two sites available? More like forty-two. I only saw one other rig parked. As my daughter would call it, sketchy. But the grass wasn’t too long, there was a tree near our site, and it was just for one night. I pulled in, hooked up, and everything worked just fine. Maybe all the other spots would be occupied later that night.

Actually, only one other person pulled in that night. They were driving a 26-foot UHaul truck pulling a thirty-foot trailer. After they pulled in, though, they left in their car and I never saw them again.

Our site was pretty close to a road that got very busy with truck traffic very early the next morning. Hey, I’m usually up early anyway. We unhooked, packed up and we were on our way.

Can you really say you’ve been Rv-ing if you haven’t stayed at a sketchy RV park?