On Seasoning a Traveler

Ah! Optimism at the beginning of every adventure springs eternal.

The TSA agent at Boise's security area welcoming us couldn't have been nicer. I think he actually likes his job. A short while later, we boarded our United Airlines flight ... right on time.

Buckled in and with my seat back and tray table placed in their upright and locked positions, I thought to myself, "This trip's going to be perfect!"

Hang on! There's a wait for the ground crew to push the plane onto the tarmac; this morning, only one crew is available for pushes.

20 minutes later, we're rolling down the tarmac ... "It's all good. It's going to be perfect!" ... just as the pilot swerves the plane from taxiing into a parking spot because they still had paperwork to do.


Did your airline dog eat your airline paperwork?


Despite thinking we were "seasoned travelers" who had dealt with most situations, we discovered more "seasoning" would come our way on this adventure! 

Come along and join us!

... on our journey to Chicago and the upper Midwest as we explore the mysteries of car rentals, visit friends and family, meander through a bizarre grocery store, take tours, pay too much for food and beverages, and deal with a crazy lady!

What could go wrong?

Take a moment to grab a giant spiked-pumpkin-spiced latte and settle in!

Presented to you in the ever-popular picture-n-caption format, it's time for the ... Autumn TourAlong Tale


You Can't Drive Our Car in Ohio!

Finally, we were on our way—45 minutes late from the gate in Boise. Still, snow-dusted peaks and valley fog offered a nice view on the way to Chicago. No worries. We had plenty of time to grab our rental car and drive the four hours to southern Indiana and our first stop.

The car rental pavilion at O'Hare had some very long lines. Man-o-man! It's lucky the line at the Fox Rent-a-Car counter was mercifully short.

The nice woman at the counter asked, "Where are you driving?" I told her we'd be driving in Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio.

She replied, "Oh, I'm sorry, we don't allow our cars to be taken into Ohio."


No fine print on the Booking.com website warned me of this oddity of Fox Rent-a-Car.

With nothing left do to, we managed to book a car from Thrifty that we
actually could drive in Ohio ... at twice the price!

OH NOOOOO! The Thrifty rental counter was one of those with a very long line. Why? Well, it was because they didn't have enough people to clean returned cars.

Our wait? Four hours. With no food service in the car rental pavilion, the sandwiches we packed the night before came in quite deliciously handy! Had we been thinking clearly, we could have sold them at airport food prices and recoup some of our now inflated car rental cost.

About the time we were supposed to arrive in Columbus, Indiana, for dinner with our friends, we finally left O'Hare.

And so the travel seasoning continues!

We Made It!

Columbus, Indiana and its historic Bartholomew County Courthouse! Columbus delivers on the scenic smalltown Midwest vibe. Neat and tidy, Columbus is home to the Cummins corporation as well as the hometown to none other than former VP, Mike Pence. More importantly, just up the road is Seymour
where rocker John Cougar Mellencamp went to high school!

In case you need a refresher on just what made Johnny Cougar a sensation, come along on this brief diversion: The 10 Best John Cougar Mellencamp Songs of All Time! Trust me, your ears will hurt so good.

Our Indiana Hosts!

Longtime friends and our hosts for the first leg of our Midwestern odyssey, David and Karen served as tour directors for the sights of southern Indiana including Columbus, Nashville (Indiana), Madison (Indiana) and points between!

Hey, Can I Throw You a Bone?

We saw many elaborate displays proving that Halloween is a BIG DEAL in the Midwest! Take this happy dog in Madison, for example. He's so anxious for the holiday that he hasn't eaten a thing in months and is saving room for all that candy!

Who's a skeleton dog? Who's a skeleton dog?

Kind of a Sports Town

Cincinnati! Home of the Reds, the Bengals, and 2.2 million other people! Natalie visited the city years ago and had been itching to show me the sites. While not on my bucket list, Cincinnati
—as it turns out—really does have a groovy downtown and spectacular riverside stadiums! We walked (a lot) and intentionally walked across one of many bridges spanning the Ohio River to make our claim to the territory of Kentucky!

Kentucky denied our claim, but we did take a nice boat ride on the river while we were there!

Beware of the Bill!

And then there's food and beverages. This trip was reminder that not all food and drink are created equal. At one fancy hotel bar (not to name names, but it's this one) we each enjoyed a drink and then received the $30 "happy hour" bill.


Later we enjoyed a fine Italian dinner at Sotto. It was super delicious! The bill was not super delicious! For my money, the spicy quesadilla I had at Americano was the tastiest treat and best value
of the entire trip.

Drum Roll Please!

Join the TourAlongWithTodd Blog in welcoming ... all the way from downtown Cincinnati!  ... THE CRAZY LADY!

The story goes something like this:

It was a fine Wednesday morning to stroll along the city streets before our riverboat cruise. Just a block from our hotel, we paused at a crosswalk and noticed a young woman across the street conversing loudly with someone. The light changed and we crossed the street ...  where the woman was continuing her oratory. By this time, we realized she was talking to herself and/or anyone who would listen.

Then she set her sights on us.

Noticing my Iceland t-shirt, she addressed me as "Mr. Iceland!," but this quickly turned into something about Ireland. Natalie worked around her, but I was caught in her path as she proceeded to dance, in her words, "a jig" kicking directly at my legs. I managed to avoid any significant contact and got past her ... only to see her coming back as us for more.

This time she went after Natalie by grabbing her ponytail, violently jerking down on it. Natalie nearly fell backwards. Not knowing what else to do, I shouted something like "FLIBERTY-FLIPPING-FLEW THE FLIAL OFF!" That did the trick. She decided to move on up the sidewalk.

Seconds later, we learned that she assaulted two women around the corner just before engaging with us and that the police had already been called. Within a minute of the ponytail pull, Cincinnati police started arriving on foot, bike, and electric scooter.

The Crazy Lady was handcuffed and brought back down the sidewalk shouting something about Black lives mattering. That seemed like a bit of a dodge given her morning melee randomly assaulting passersby.

We gave our statements and were on our way when Natalie said something she NEVER thought she would EVER have to say when we're traveling ... "Todd, you should really take a picture of this!" And so I did.

Will the woman get the help she clearly needs? I don't know, but I'm not optimistic.

Well, that was quite a dramatic dose of travel seasoning, don't you think?

Over the Rhine

The Over the Rhine area of downtown Cincinnati is a blend of old and new with funky shops and building walls adorned in art. Our walkabout of the area was a great way to cap an event-filled day.

Originally settled by 19th century German immigrants, Over the Rhine is a 
historic urban district that has seen dramatic change since riots took place there in 2001, and by 2009, it was one of the city's most dangerous areas. Today, gentrification is gradually introducing the area to its next chapter.

Jungle Jim's!

Though Cincinnati is home to the expanding Kroger empire of grocery stores, on the north edge of Cincinnati along the Dixie Highway there's a grocery store unlike any other
—Jungle Jim's International Market.

Is it international? Yes, it really is! With extensive food sections devoted to goods from 70 countries, you can probably find what you're looking for at Jungle Jim's. Durian anyone? Yes, they've got it!

But Jungle Jim's is more than that.

Today, it's a destination
—kind of like grocery store meets weird fun park. Pictured above is a boat featuring odd caricatures of the Gilligan Island crew along with the Cereal Bowl Band! Other displays include Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest and Marilyn Monroe in her billowing dress in the wine section. And yes, there's an actual fan blowing up her dress so ... well, you get the idea.

While we didn't have time, there are tour guides available to lead you through the Jungle Jim's experience. Can you imagine? A grocery store tour guides? Awesome!

The Jungle Jim's Way

Kids love having their photo taken sitting on the infamous privy. We opted to not immortalize our stay (publicly). However, just beyond the two doors are well-appointed bathrooms with plenty of images of Jungle Jim on the walls to keep you entertained and remind you just exactly where you are.

Wooster, Ohio! Whoo! Whoo!

Natalie's relatives, Uncle Dale and Aunt Coby, moved to Wooster a few years ago to be closer to their son, Reed, and his family. Reed's a bee scientist at The Ohio State University. These family connections made Wooster a must-stop on this TourAlong.

Wooster's not a big place, but it hosts a surprising number of industries from agriculture to Wooster Brush (paint brushes), Rubbermaid, Gojo Industries (Purell hand sanitizer), and FritoLay!

Meet Uncle Dale, the Stripper!

An afternoon outing to the Mishler Weaving Mill in Smithville, Ohio. Coby and Dale both volunteer at this living museum that continues producing a wide variety of handwoven products. Dale has the distinction of being the mill's stripper! That's quite an honor at his age, don't you think?

Oh! I should add, being the stripper means he uses a machine to cut fabric into strips of cloth for use in rugs and such. Still, Uncle Dale's a stripper!

Countryside Sunrise

The sunrise lights up another tidy Ohio farm! I can only imagine how vivid the colors became within a week or two.

How About a Taxi?

How we did NOT catch COVID after our journey into and around Chicago I'll never know. Being adventurous travelers, we elected to spend $10 and 45 minutes in the "L" train from O'Hare into Chicago's downtown. Yep! That was fun ... all the smelly charm Chicago has to offer!

Two days later we reflected on the idea of taking the L back to O'Hare at 6:00 a.m. for our flight home. We decided a $55 taxicab ride would be just fine. And it was.

I'll Take a DAWG, Mister J!

Our evening tour
—the Bikes, Bites, and Brews tour—had us biking nine miles around the downtown and along the lakeshore. Along the way we tasted Chicago deep dish pizza, Chicago hot dogs, Chicago gelato, and Chicago brews. It was a fun way to see the city in the evening, and Mister J's DAWG 'n BURGER was my favorite (though I think the Yelp reviews are hilarious!). Still, I'm not making a special trip back to Chicago for any of these treats. Sorry Chicago :( 

45,000 of My Best Running Friends

We wondered why our hotel cost for two nights was so stratospheric. And the answer is: Perfect timing! We arrived the same day 45,000 others arrived. The big difference was that we forgot to pay the entry fees to run in the Chicago Marathon! Otherwise, we certainly would have competed in it ... without doubt ... yep, we can't think of anything else we'd rather do!

The Chicago Marathon is the 3rd largest in the world (or 4th, or 5th, or whatever depending on who's numbers you want to go with) and it goes on for hours! In fact, one has to finish the 26 miles within 6.5 hours to receive an official time. Otherwise, you're banished to Mister J's and have to eat 26 Chicago DAWGS in 6.5 minutes!

Chicago Has Some Buildings Along a River!

By far the best way to take in the historic architecture of Chicago is in an open-air tour boat. With scenes like this one, my camera was doing overtime. The buildings and bridges truly are spectacular!

One prominent building is owned by ex-president Voldemort. He's widely known for his real estate ... prowess? It turns out he may be in hot water over his Chicago skyscraper's financial history. Now, who would have guessed that?

No Natalie, You Can't Take Lily Home!

More relatives! This time, it was a trip out to Naperville, just west of downtown Chicago, to visit Gudrun and her family (Myat and kids Lily and Samuel). Without going into the convoluted detail of how Natalie is related to Gudrun, it's easiest just to say Gudrun is one of the Austrian relatives!

Here, Lily turns on her over-the-top cute factor. She knows what to do when a camera is on her!


Well, there you have it!

Travel seems a bit tipped on its head these days, and this trip was no different: Airline paperwork on the runway, car rental oddities, restaurant and bar costs, and even a crazy lady who needs help.

We came away from it all more seasoned than ever. And just to cap it off, our return United Airlines flight reminded me of what travel can be again: From beginning to end, it was flawless ... landing 15 minutes early ... and we even got entire cans of cranberry juice cocktail to enjoy at 35,000 feet!

In the end, this trip really was perfect ... because of the visits with friends and family, the new sights we saw, and the bumps along the way.

More TourAlongs?


Until then ... Ciao!

~ Todd



How about a carefully curated photo album showing so much more of our Midwestern trip?

Click here to view the photos! You'll be Midwestern-glad you did!

To view in slideshow format:

    • Once at the album, click the right-facing arrow in the upper right corner to start the slideshow.
    • Use the slideshow controls in lower middle of the screen to navigate as the show plays (go back, go forward, pause).

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  1. I'm getting scared about flying on a plane to Iceland with you!! Let's hope the luck of the return trip continues. Chicago looks fun. I spent the night at a hotel near the airport, but I don't think that counts.

  2. Im me, not anonymous...

    1. Ha! I figured as much! Just as long as I'm not flying it you should be fine.

  3. Entertaining and interesting, as always. You got some great photos, too. Thanks for sharing your travels and all the fun details. (I hope the gal in Chicago got some help and support. Probably was booked and released though. I'm glad you and your wife weren't seriously injured). Have a great fall and winter, Marcia D.

  4. Thanks Marcia! Yes, I think you're probably right about the gal. At least we were able to walk away from it without any issues.

    1. Looking forward to your experiences in Iceland. It will be so beautiful. Cold 🥶, but beautiful.

    2. Thanks Marcia! Iceland will be cold, but then again, we did grow up in Idaho ... I'm guessing it will be fine ... and fun!