Touristy Tuesday: San Francisco, CA – New Years Eve 2013

Happy New Years! What…? it’s April already, you say? Oh, I guess I’m a little late to the party on that one.

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Even though I’m more than a few months overdue on this blog, I wanted to make sure I documented Abe and I’s second San Francisco adventure. Better late than never right? This was really the last city for Abe and I before the big switch of regions and partners, so to say we made the most of it is an understatement. Here’s a preview, or a TL;DR (too long; didn’t read) for you.

  • Bars.
  • Dancing in bars.
  • Falling while dancing in bars.
  • Tourist traps.
  • Touristy adventure with the musician from the aforementioned bar.
  • Airport bars.
  • Football.
  • Book of Mormon – The Musical.
  • New Years Eve.
  • The morning after New Years Eve.

So if that table of contents gives you any indications for what is to come you should be able to deduce two things: First, that it’s going to be a long post. (Sorry I’m not actually sorry!) And second, that it was quite the couple of weeks.

Abe and I rolled into San Francisco after a week in Bakersfield. If you’ve ever been to, or even heard of Bakersfield, you know it isn’t exactly the most glamorous of California destinations and we were eager for a change of pace. San Fran delivered on that immediately when our dynamic duo turned into a trio for a few days, with the arrival of Hotdogger Ron. Abe and I met Ron at the Hotdogger Reunion in Madison back in October and hit it off immediately, especially since Ron and I are both Mizzou J-School/Geology grads. We all just happened to be in San Fran at the same time, so it was inevitable that we would meat up again!

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Once we got to the city we stopped by the hotel just long enough to change, sip some wine (the buzz helps with that BART ride in) and hit the road. San Francisco greeted us with spectacular Christmas displays and after wandering around Union Square for a bit we settled for a Thai place for dinner. After that is when the bar hopping began. I should have known from the get-go that trying to keep up with not one, but TWO Hotdoggers would spell trouble. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite have that foresight.

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We started at Lefty O’Doul’s Piano Bar, and then headed down the street to another pub. The second bar we went to also promised to be a piano bar but it turned out to just be a singer and his guitar. We were anything but disappointed because he delivered on our request for Sweet Caroline and then kept the hits coming after that. When there is live music involved it’s usually not long until Abe starts calling for shots, and sure enough a round quickly appeared.

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Let me pause and set the scene up here. Up until this moment there had been lively music going on in the background thanks to our friend. The guitarist was doing an excellent job and the make-shift dance floor had one stand-out couple doing their best to keep up with the music. It was picture perfect, right? Of course, with shots in hand, that is when the guitarist decides to take a break! Now, I’m the kind of girl that if I’m taking a shot it’s gotta be fun. A silent bar isn’t exactly my style, so with some cajoling I managed to convince the guitarist for one more song. He warily glanced at the couple on the dance floor, who were more shuffling than dancing at this point, but my enthusiasm must have been convincing because he gave in and started up another tune.

Now that’s where it gets a little fuzzy. It must have been a good song because I decided this was the perfect opportunity to dance with this guy on the dance floor, who’s partner had suddenly vanished. It started out as a fun, innocent dance, but ended in a train wreck. Initially things were going well, with some nice high school prom moves. Then he went in to twirl me, only for both of us to realize a little too late that neither of us were ready for that elaborate of a move. Like two asteroids colliding in space, we crashed into each other. He went down first, and then accidentally brought me down with him. (Abe claims I went first, but I beg to differ, perhaps in an effort to salvage some dignity.) Even this is making it sound far more graceful that it really was. We ate it. BIG time. In front of everyone.

Meanwhile, Abe and Ron were enjoying the spectacle from the sidelines laughing hysterically. Abe, who knows my dance moves all too well, looked neither shocked nor surprised at the calamity. The guitarist, who had warned me when I got up to dance that I would be better off going solo, gave me a knowing I-told-you-so grin. With all the charm and grace I could muster, I quickly regained my step, curtseyed, and left joe-shmo to recover on his own.

Embarrassed? Definitely. Regretful? Only slightly. Everyone has to have an experience of being mortified in public at least once, right?

That story might be one of those you-had-to-be-there moments, but rest assured it was a sight to see! When consulting Abe about this blog post he made sure to tell me repeatedly that this was the single funniest moment from our seven months together.

Anyway, the guitarist later came over to introduce himself. I was honestly expecting a lecture on how to adequately select a dance partner (I’m sticking with Abe from now on) but he ended up just chatting us up. He had a strong accent that I hadn’t noticed while he was singing, which turned out to be Croatian, and introduced himself as Demir. Now believe it or not, but I happen to know just enough Serbian, a sister language of Croatian, to get through introductions. Somehow I think it was my ability to stutter out “Good evening” in his native tongue, rather than my dance skills, that kicked off the friendship. Although Ron, Abe, and I piled into a cab and headed back to the hotel we were all staying at, we made plans for Demir to show us all around San Francisco later in the week.

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The next day was a true Touristy Tuesday, and this one actually fell on a Tuesday! We started off with a trip to the Golden Gate Bridge. Although Abe and I had seen it on our first trip to San Francisco we hadn’t actually been there in the Wienermobile, a photo op we couldn’t exactly pass up.

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The second time around the weather was absolutely beautiful, with totally clear skies this time, and we had much better parking having charmed the bike cops with Wiener Whistles.

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From the Golden Gate Bridge we headed to Fisherman’s Wharf for the first clam fest of many to be had in San Francisco.

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The smell of sourdough captured our senses and we were drawn into the famous Boudin’s Bakery.

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We scored a table overlooking the water and while we waited there were plenty of pretty incredible creatures made out of dough to marvel at. I love bread and I love cool stuff made out of food, so I adored this place! (Send me an Edible Arrangement over flowers almost any day.)

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Between the clam chowder and the clam pizza, it was a true San Francisco adventure.

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After Boudin’s, we headed through the Castro district for some sight-seeing and then went over to see the Painted Ladies Victorian houses. This was another picture-perfect moment. The only thing missing were bread baguettes to sword fight with! (Next time I suppose!)

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For the short time Ron got to spend with us he really assimilated well with the SW team – drink a lot, eat a lot, and do a bunch of touristy things in as short amount of time as possible. I think Abe would agree that would sum up our approach to adventure pretty well over the seven months we were together.

The next day Demir from the bar called. Dobro utro! (That’s “good morning” for all of you non-Croatian speakers out there.) Neither Abe or I really expected to get the local’s perspective, but it worked out wonderfully. After lunch in an artsy-fartsy area of town that I’ve now forgotten the name of, Demir showed off everything from the fanciest of houses to some of the prettiest views.

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We crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and went driving through the Marin Headlands. Talk about spectacular! Not only did I come out of the afternoon with some beautiful photos, but I landed another passport stamp! I’ve still been avidly collecting stamps for my National Park Passport, opportunities for which have been strikingly less frequent in the Midwest, and we stopped by the visitors center to get one for the Headlands. Success! (Every time I get one of those stamps I think how proud my Grandma should be, having started me on the whole passport craze from an early age.)

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That evening we went to The Trident in Saulsalito for wine and more clam chowder, while overlooking the bay and the city. It had to have been the best view of the city in the area! That was it for the day, but it proved again how much fun this job is – exploring new places with new people!

Sadly, Abe and I did have to actually work some of those days in San Francisco. Between retail events and a stop at the Ronald McDonald house in town we didn’t have much more time for exploring, and soon enough we were headed home for Christmas.

I was flying out Friday evening on what I thought was a red-eye from San Francisco to Kansas City. Guess I should have read that ticket a little closer…. Yes – I left at 7 p.m. and yes – I got in at 8 a.m. But no – that was not all time spent in flight! Turned out I was actually spending the night in Denver’s finest sleeping accommodations – the United Airlines terminal.

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This wasn’t my first time spending the night in a terminal, having previously been stranded in Newark on my 19th birthday, and Denver lacked the charm of terminal life that Tom Hanks had portrayed so nicely. Oh well, six hours later I was in a slightly comfier, albeit more squished seat headed home.

Even with the headache of overnight travel, it was still a fun trip back. My flight out of San Francisco had actually been delayed numerous times and practically every passenger was camped out at the airport bar. The plane was pretty much filled entirely with 20-something Coloradans going home for Christmas and we had a great time swapping stories from our first years out on our own. If they hadn’t finally called for boarding, I think we would have ended up ordering a bottle of champagne to kick off the winter holidays! We even swapped numbers to meet up on New Years, although that never really panned out.

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Christmas back home was low key and mostly just filled with puppies and good books.

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I feel the need to bring this up specifically given the amount of going out I mention in this blog post. I have to reassert my wholesomeness, ya know?

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In all seriousness, I spent most of my time back in Kansas City curled up by the fire working my way through Pride & Prejudice. That kicked off the classic novel spree that lasted throughout the month of January. (I’ll come clean and admit that it even started impacting my vocabulary!) After Pride & Prejudice I started Jane Eyre and it just continued from there.

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While I was home we also celebrated my step mom’s birthday. With it being so close to Christmas she has had the unfortunate luck of being lumped in with the holidays each year growing up, so I try to always be over-the-top with her birthday now.

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After a few days home, I was due back to San Francisco. Although we get two weeks off for the winter holidays, Abe and I were on a special assignment that was breaking up our off days. For the last three years Kraft has been sponsoring the Kraft Fight Hunger bowl and this year Navy was playing Arizona State at AT&T park. (Yes, AT&T Park is a baseball stadium. Apparently you can play football at it too – who knew?!)

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Abe and I had the tough job of attending the pre-game pep rally in Union Square, staying at Hotel Nikko (which was also on the square) and watching the game from the Kraft box suite. I know – working over the holidays is really rough.

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While the game was a bit of a wash, with Navy losing pretty horribly, one great thing came out of it: this picture.Hotdogger photo bomb

(My friend from high school, Kalah, goes to ASU and saw this in one of her friends’ Facebook albums. Not sure what exactly I’m doing back there, but it was the perfect photo bomb. Probably just being my usual over-enthusiastic self.)

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After our work with the Kraft Bowl was done Abe and I decided to stick around for New Years Eve in San Francisco. I had two goals: have an awesome time on New Years Eve and then check California off the Race for 50 States by doing a half marathon in the morning on New Years Day. Clearly there was some dissonance between those two goals and it was either one or the other. You can probably guess which one I achieved. (Or maybe not, I really do love running.) Spoiler alert: it was the first at the expense of the second.

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Our boss Ed had told us that the Union Square Westin always has a really elaborate and over-the-top New Years Eve party each year, the biggest in San Francisco. The theme was Passport to the World, with 10+ rooms with different international themes, an open bar, and tons of live entertainment. Although the shock value associated with the ticket price would be good content, I’m too embarrassed to admit how much the tickets actually were. Regardless, it was completely worth it.

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Each room had a separate theme, from Asian to 80’s. We were a little confused on the 80’s theme, since that’s not really a country, but hey – why question it because that was one of the best rooms in the place. We used the night as an excuse to pull out the formal wear we had been lugging around for months and actually put our fancy pants on!

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We wandered from room to room, bar to bar, enjoying the ample amounts of people watching. That was probably my favorite part. Everyone was dressed to the nines and I felt like I had stepped into a C-list version of People Magazine! All the dancing we did that night went well and there were no repeat collision incidents to be had.

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After a few hours and more than a few drinks, the countdown to 2013 started. Then, at the stroke of midnight, it happened. Abe and I kissed. Or rather, according to Abe, I kissed him. It may not have been reciprocal. While I certainly believe that story, the combination of it being two hours after my typical bedtime and more than two drinks past my usual limit, I don’t totally remember all the details. It was certainly our first, last, and only kiss that we will ever share. But hey – it’s NYE and it was in the spirit of Auld Lang Syne!

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The trip home was equally adventurous. Trying to figure out CalTrain vs. the BART after midnight on New Years is something you only need to do once in your life. Luckily some kind fellow travelers pointed us in the right direction and we eventually made it back to the hotel.

  • Formal wear – Check!
  • Champagne toast – Check!
  • Midnight kiss – Check!

I’d call that a successful New Years Eve!

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The next morning was less of a success. I actually woke up a couple hours later, at 6 a.m. for the half marathon, and promptly turned over, hit the snooze button, and decided to wake up when 2013 was a few more hours old.

The rest of our time in San Francisco was spent mostly in recovery mode. Partly from New Years Eve and partly from being sick. Abe had the flu and decided to spend most of his time in bed, while I was still determined to get out and about.

We did have one good brunch at this psuedo-southern restaurant called Farmer Brown’s, which had a spectacular buffet featuring chicken and waffles, grits, and bottomless mimosas. At this point we were really only interested in the first two options, and decided to save the mimosas for next time. This was an unexpected treat, which I wouldn’t have expected in trendy, hip San Francisco. It was the perfect post-NYE menu though, that’s for sure!

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If San Francisco is known for anything besides the bridge, it’s known for the gay community and I needed to experience a little bit of that before I left. Since doing anything on Castro Street beyond just driving it is a little too adventurous for me, I decided to take a different route.

As a big fan of musicals I have been dying to see The Book of Mormon since I first heard about it. (Trust me – there is definitely a bit of fab-u-lous in it.) Having been to Salt Lake City, gotten my own copy of the Book of Mormon while there, and been to both the Temple Square and Tabernacle Choir, seeing the musical seemed like a natural next step! (Maybe more of a leap, from serious to nonsensical, but it holds with the Mormon theme at least.)

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Abe and I had looked into tickets, but since it would have been a week’s salary for each of us we just wrote it off. Then, while out on my own grabbing dinner one night, I saw a huge crowd around a theater. I didn’t realize it until then, but I was right by the venue the musical was at! It was about 7:40 and I assumed the curtain call was probably 8 p.m. – talk about the perfect time for cheap, last minute tickets! I figured I would at least see what tickets were going for, just in case it wasn’t astronomical.

I went up to a scalper who said face value was $300. Gulp
Me – “Thanks but no thanks! Have a good one!”
Him – “Well, how much did you want to pay…?”
Me – “I don’t know that I even want to pay three digits for a ticket, much less $300!”
Him – “Oh, no way is that happening. I just sold a pair for $750.”
Me – “BBYYEE.”

By the time I had picked up a quick bite and started walking back to the hotel it was 7:55 and the scalper still had the same number of tickets in his hands. I knew I was golden at that point.

Me – “So are they $100 yet?”
Him – “Hey now! Don’t count my money just yet.”
Me – “Alright, well when will they be $100?” (Figuring I could easily just wait it out at this point.)

And just like that, at the 8:00 curtain call, I ended up with a center orchestra seat to one of the hottest shows in town. I was talking to the couple next to me and they just happened to mention that they had paid $900 for their two tickets! This was probably one of the prouder moments of negotiating I’ve had on the road, that’s for sure!

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The show itself was absolutely hysterical. It was a little too over-the-top, even for my taste, at times, but that is probably to be expected when the writers are the same guys who put together South Park.

And that was it for San Francisco! The day after New Years I was on a flight back to the Midwest to start the Southern road trip portion of break, for the Mississippi Blues Marathon.

Even though Abe and I had one hell of a good time in San Francisco, it is still a city I need to eventually make it back to. There are still a few things to do there on my bucket list, mainly running across the Golden Gate Bridge! I know – how did I not do that?! I also want to see Alcatraz and go out to John Muir Woods to get another stamp for the good old National Park Passport. Since I bailed on my race for California I have to make it back to the Golden State sometime anyway! Till next time San Francisco!

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Touristy Tuesday: Louisville, KY

I initially intended the Race for 50 States blog to take shape as race recaps, running updates, and pretty much all things related to my quest to see all 50 states from the view of a finish line. Since starting to blog, I’ve been doing a lot more running around the country and these Touristy Tuesday blogs have been a great way to chronicle those adventures.

This half of the job though has involved quite a bit more racing about, including a stint of traveling that involved seven different beds in seven days. (Let’s just say, I know how to pack these days!) While hopping from city to city should just give me more material for these Touristy Tuesday posts, I’ve gotten a little lax and I’m due an update!

Back in March Eliot and I loaded up the company car and headed to Louisville, Kentucky. Hurray! 10 weeks into my new half in the Midwest and this was the first new city to me. While in the Southwest almost everywhere Abe and I went was new, and while I’ve certainly had a slew of fresh adventures, none of the destinations up until this point have been uncharted territory.

After a drive the should have taken just four hours, but ended up an eight hour trek, Eliot and I finally pulled into our hotel in Louisville. It had been a day marked by Chicago traffic, hiding out in the back of the “bun” to take a conference call, a gas stop turned parade in a small town, and a crawl across the Kentucky state line during rush hour.

I try to get my picture at every state sign, but these bridge borders never work out. Traffic was so slow I just popped out the bun roof!

I try to get my picture at every state sign, but these bridge borders never work out. Traffic was so slow I just popped out the bun roof!

Exhausted and just ready for bed, Eliot and I started loading up the luggage cart. If there is one time that the peppy Hotdogger persona isn’t totally on, it’s after a long drive day. With only a few weeks left though, I’ve been committed to singing that jingle as many times as consumers want and finishing strong. So when we were swarmed at our hotel first thing I made my famous puns as I threw Eliot our suitcases and duffle bags.

As we finally made our way toward the hotel I saw one of the guys we were talking to head to his truck. It was wrapped in a giant Italian flag and said Steve-O’s Italian Kitchen on the back. I jokingly called out, “Hey Steve-O, ya making us dinner tonight? We could use a break from hot dogs!” Well, as it turned out, Steve-O was making dinner!

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We drove out to Buckner, KY, population 2,000, where Steve-O’s was the hottest restaurant in “town.” Not only was the food amazing (he let us try ALL of his different desserts, even cutting the pie into slim slices for me) but he was terrific.

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You could tell Steve-O was just a really nice guy and all his customers knew and loved him. There is definitely something to be said for small-town America! Even though we were clearly there with the Wienermobile, with hot dogs on every article of clothing Eliot and I had on, no one came up to us while we were eating and Steve-O implored us to just kick back and relax. What a great start to our time in Louisville!

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The rest of our first week in Louisville had its ups and downs. There was a state park half a mile from the hotel with a fitness loop, so I thought I would be able to get some good runs in. Unfortunately I was hit with the flu the second day in town. Again?! I took it easy after that so I would be ship-shape for spring break. We watched a LOT of Food Network on our off days that week.

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Even though it was low key, Eliot and I still managed to get out and see the Louisville Slugger museum downtown. (I know, I know – where is the photo of the Wienermobile next to the giant baseball bat? How did we miss that!) Eliot is a baseball aficionado and while I love games as an excuse to eat brats I’ve never been that passionate about the sport. Since being partners I’ve gotten my share of history though, from the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City (you’d know about that if I ever blogged) to this!

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The museum itself was really neat. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – I love seeing how stuff is made! All of their bats are made in that factory, which I think is pretty cool. Our tour guide was hilarious and hit a few home runs with his puns. Eliot and I were the only ones to laugh, and knowing the pain of a pun met with silence, I made sure to chuckle extra loud.

The tour ended and we got our mini slugger bats. That was good for me. Eliot actually had one personalized and I felt bad we didn’t have a ball that I could toss to him so he could put it to the test right away! There was also a small lego exhibit, with recreations of Wrigley Field and Miller Park. Wrigley is definitely my home stadium (ya know – because I’m SUCH a Cubs fan – haha, not really) and actually being a huge Brewer’s fan, Eliot loved the recreation of Miller Park. Not only were those awesome because they’re huge, life-like replicas of landmarks made entirely of Legos, but they also were littered with things to find, like Waldo, the Simpons, and the car from the Blues Brothers – which was obviously in the Wrigley Field display. I was a little disappointed they didn’t hide Ferris Bueller in the Chicago scene too!

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If Louisville is known first for their bats, this spring they are known second for basketball. We were in town at the peak of March Madness, which was really fun to experience. The city slowly started to become more and more covered in University of Louisville Cardinal red as the teams progressed. Our first week in town we did a morning show interview and it happened to work out that the Women’s Basketball Coach, Jeff Walz did his interview in the Wienermobile as well. Talk about a great guy. We nick-named him Jumbo Dog Jeff and Eliot and I decided we were Louisville fans until the end.

Click here to see that interview + plus another awkward interview with Deli Eliot & Cookout Kelly. 

Of course, we ended up leaving town at 6 p.m. on Saturday – the night of the Men’s Championship Game, but as we cross Kentucky and Indiana on our way to St. Louis I had Eliot checking the score left and right. It was almost like we were there … almost!

Our time in Louisville was split up, with a week off for our spring break. (I know, rough life, right?) I returned to Louisville a few days early to do the Run the Bluegrass half marathon in Lexington. While it is always fun to explore a city with your teammate, I honestly love solo adventuring just as much!

Easter Sunday I decided to check off a few things that I’ve been wanting to do lately. I had been running in the state park, but knew that the area had quite a few gorgeous parks perfect for hiking. Not wanting to end up stranded and lost in the woods alone, I looked up a local hiking group on the site MeetUp.com. (If you haven’t heard of it, check it out – it’s a great way to meet people with similar interests and not really have to plan anything yourself – just show up!)

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The hike was wonderful! We did about 4-5 miles through Jefferson Memorial Forrest, which was a good stretch for my legs after the hilly half marathon the day before. I was really impressed to hear that Louisville is currently connecting all of these different parks with a 100 mile hiking/equestrian trail. The group was really diverse and it was a fun way to spend the afternoon, get outdoors, and get a little muddy.

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But it was Easter and I’m just as much a fan of getting dressed up and wearing pastels as anyone else. After spending winter bundled up in extra layers and boots I was craving a day to feel feminine again, even if it was just for dinner on my own. I mean, why not!

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I drove into downtown Louisville and had dinner at The Old Spaghetti Factory. (I would have loved something more local, but most places were closed for Easter.) Since it was a holiday and not too busy I scored a seat in the train car, which I’m not even embarrassed to admit was pretty fun. After that I headed to the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts to see this musical I had been hoping to see.

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The musical was called “Urinetown.” Ok, Ok, let me at least provide you with the show description before you start judging my taste. “In an attempt to regulate water consumption, Urinetown has outlawed the use of private toilets. The citizenry must use public, pay-per-use amenities owned and operated by Urine Good Company, a malevolent corporation run by the corrupt Caldwell B. Cladwell.”

I figured it would be pretty funny and I was right. It was a small theater, 100 seats and only 25 were filled, which made for a very intimate experience. As much as I love big Broadway performances, I like local theater just as much because you can tell how much fun the performers are having!

While I’m not particularly religious, I do get into the Easter spirit, even beyond wearing pastels. Since I made it into town before Eliot, and I knew he would be driving back in the middle of the night, I thought it would be fun to have a surprise waiting for him – Easter eggs! I created a make-shift Easter egg hunt for him, hiding eggs in the microwave, on the soap holder, and behind the blinds.

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He brought back an Easter surprise for me too, homemade snacky-snacks courtesy of his mom Carol. Yummo!

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On our next off day we decided to go underground ziplining. We had seen billboards advertising this place on that long drive into Louisville the week before. Billboard attractions are always hit or miss. The berry picking in Bakersfield that Abe and I did on a drive day – totally worth it. (Side note: I was so tan back then.) Little America, the nicest bathrooms in Wyoming – not so much. Leery, I looked into underground ziplining online and was met with rave reviews on TripAdvisor.

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It turned out to be awesome! They squeezed us in (I think something about a giant hot dog being parked out front helped) and we headed out to the cave. You might think, as we naturally did, that this place would be somewhere remote. Nope! There were signs that boasted, “You are now under K-Mart!” and “You are now under the interstate!” This cave is literally right below the Louisville Zoo!

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Ziplining was a blast. It was a lot of hurry-up-and-wait with all the hooking and unhooking of our 12 year old companions. (We landed a spot on the tour with a gaggle of middle school girls on spring break. I felt like I fit right in, Eliot didn’t share that sense of comfort unfortunately.) Even while we were waiting for our turns, the tour guides were hilarious and it was so much fun to watch these pre-teen girls running around.

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The last zipline is a very steep, racing zipline course. Eliot and I are both competitive by nature and the only skill this took was being the first to jump off the platform. Being the wuss I am, it took me a half a second longer than Eliot and he glided into a first place finish.

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That was it for Louisville. I never did get my big fancy Derby hat that was on my bucketlist for the city and we didn’t make it out to Churchill Downs. I’m OK with that though, because I would LOVE to go back to Louisville. Honestly, I think it’s a city I could easily live in. Very outdoorsy, yet also cosmopolitan, and the people and the weather are great! I never envisioned myself turning into a Kentucky girl, but who knows – I think I’d look pretty good for Derby each year!

Touristy Tuesday: San Diego & Santa Clarita, CA

It’s a double whammy Touristy Tuesday Saturday this week as I’m trying to catch up on our road-tripping adventures across the Southwest. It’s been awhile, but the blogging absence has been because we’ve been having so much fun!

After the trip to Madison, Abe and I flew back to California and made our way down the coast to San Diego. Hungover, jet-lagged, and exhausted from too much Midwestern fun, the sight of the Pacific coming into San Diego was more than enough to get us pumped up for the week.

Incredible sand castle from Coronado Beach

It was a pretty busy week, with only one day off, but as I posted about in my previous blog, I still got plenty of running in. In addition to being a great week for scenic workouts, it was also a great week for meeting up with people.

The Hotdogger reunion continued with a trip to Hotdogger Monica’s, from Class VII, Pollo Grill restaurant in Lemon Grove.

Talk about some hardcore delicious authentic Mexican food. We visited her in the afternoon after my 23 mile run so the grub hit the spot!

I also stopped by the Hotel del Coronado to visit my old coworkers in the marketing department there. It was great to catch up with them and hear about all the exciting new things going on since I left. It could have only been better if we were able to meet up over Sunday brunch in the Crown Room!

From San Diego we headed to Santa Clarita, CA in the San Fernando Valley. We had two days off right away there and here’s all the exciting things I accomplished:
– Assembled a 1,000 piece puzzle
– Finished the book “When Everything Changed”
– Started 50/50 by Dean Karnazes about his 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days
– Ate a ton of fro-yo

It was two days of total vegging out. Literally the least two exciting days on the road yet… but not the least fun! Doing that puzzle was actually a total blast. I had been telling Abe that I wanted to do one (semi-joking, semi-serious) for weeks. I started the first evening and watched chick flicks all night (Mean Girls, Runaway Bride, and Sliding Doors – yeah, clearly Abe wasn’t around) and then finished the puzzle in the morning while streaming This American Life and The Truth podcasts. It was the perfect way to relax.

I also got some quality reading time in. It seems that I’ve got a growing library collection in my bags right now. I finished the book “When Everything Changed” that chronicles the women’s movement since the 1960’s, which was both inspiring and informative. After starting it I also ordered “The Feminine Mystique” and “Sex and the Single Girl.” While I haven’t opened “The Feminine Mystique” yet, I did start and give up on “Sex and the Single Girl,” which was far too dated for me to really get into.

Instead, I nursed my sore legs in the hot tub next to the fire-pit (the reason I love Residence Inns) while digging into Dean Karnaze’s book “50/50 – ” Talk about absolutely incredible! My two friends Josh and Barrett got to meet Dean when they did their Northface Endurance Challenge ultra-marathon in Wisconsin. Very jealous now, although at the time they posted the picture I didn’t even know who the guy was!

I did leave the hotel eventually, to meet up with Cleveland Dave (from Monterey and Fresno) for dinner. He’s on orders with the military, moving from Monterey to Virginia and stopped through LA on the drive.

We had some great pizza, but more importantly some phenomenal beer. I tried my first Lambic – where has that been all my of-age life? That stuff is delicious!

Work this last week has easily been the best week on the road yet. We’ve had fun event after fun event.

While in Santa Clarita we did have two days of grocery stores, which are usually the least glamorous part of the job. They were a total blast though because they were really busy from all the media attention we scored this week.

Abe and I did two radio interviews in Lancaster. During the first one the rock station DJ Fathead made a joke that Ron Jeremy should drive the Wienermobile, which we greeted with awkward silence. I thought he was might have been confused and trying to talk about Paul Ryan or that this guy was some rock musician and that I was the confused one.

Well, I later learned just who Ron Jeremy was and was absolutely mortified! Google it if you don’t know who he is, but make sure you’re not on the work computer for that one!

Friday we drove down to University of Southern California for an event on campus. It was a total blast being back at a college and USC was a lot of fun!

When Abe and I showed up we initially thought everyone seemed to cool for the Wienermobile and I was definitely jaded when they told us we couldn’t play the jingle horn. But the day turned out to be one of the best events yet! I tried to sell just about every student on postponing life in a cubicle to drive the Wienermobile for a year and we also got to network with some Kraft bigwigs.

The most fun part of the day was when this comedy troupe showed up across the sidewalk from us. Commedus Interruptus does improv comedy and they were absolutely hilarious! Their show was about an hour long and had students stopping the entire time. Afterward Abe and I tried to recruit the whole cast to apply to be Hotdoggers.

We thought one of the guys looked familiar and when Abe googled him later we realized it was because it was this famous actor who has been on Glee! What a sweetheart for not stopping us and saying, “listen guys – I’m famous and a big deal – there is no way I’m driving a hot dog!”

After the awesome day at USC our next day at work consisted of a parade in Agoura Hills, CA.

If you ever see the Wienermobile in a parade and the Hotdogger is singing the jingle, will you please send some love and join in? Those solos from the bunroof were rough – it’s way more fun when the whole parade route joins in!

We finished our tour of the region with an event called Bark in the Park in Lancaster.

THOUSANDS of dogs, from 4 lbs to 180 lbs! They had costume contests, best “human barker”, and lots of obstacle courses for the dogs. Talk about an easy and fun day!

I can spend a Sunday hanging out with a bunch of fur children any day!

Abe and I also had the incredible opportunity to give rides to two Make a Wish siblings. Riding in the Wienermobile wasn’t their wish (they both took trips to Disney) but it was nice to bring the whole family a sense of joy. They definitely relished that experience.

On Sunday, our last night in Cali, Abe and I went separate ways. He headed off to Universal Studios with one of the Hotdoggers from Class XXIV for a Fright Fest. Since being scared isn’t really my thing, heavens knows Abe does it far too often and I get my fill of fear that way, I decided to do something a little different.

That night I went and saw The Giver at the Canyon Theatre Guild, a local playhouse. It was unbelievable! Not only was it really cheap, but the performers were phenomenal! The Giver was one of my favorite books as a child and I was really excited to see how it would turn out as a play. It was so well done. The lead was this 17 year old who blew me away with how well he played the part. The rest of the cast ranged from a 3rd grader to a retired senior. I told the five young performers how floored I was with their talent and how proud they should be of being able to get up there like that!

That was about it for San Diego and Santa Clarita. While we took it fairly easy I still had a great time! I’ve told people before how much fun this job is each week, but having fun can be hard and tiring. It was nice to have some nice and easy fun for a change!

That was perfect timing too because this week we’re in VEGAS!!! Yeah, no nice and easy here. I can’t wait for next week’s blog – it’s going to be a good one… you can bet on that!

Touristy Tuesday: Madison, WI Edition

Touristy Tuesday takes a big leap across the country this week to Madison, Wisconsin. After three months on the road, it was time for Abe and I to head back to the Hot Dog Headquarters!

Our flight out of LAX was an early one. We were in a hotel nearby, but the time we saved driving to the airport was lost when I had to engage in the Art of Repacking to get my bag down from 68lbs to under 50lbs. (Oops!) Luckily, Abe packs light and is able to fly overweight bags for free (thanks again military ID!) and so I loaded him up with shampoos, makeup, and hair accessories galore.

He got me back for that hassle though with some pretty embarrassing photos from the flight. In my defense, it was a very early morning! Just one more to add to his “Sleeping Beauty” album of pictures of me catching ZZZs across America!

Our first night in Madison we headed over to RK’s Burger Lounge, which was actually one of our bosses’ apartment. She’s in her 20’s and yet has managed to create an absolutely “Pinterest Perfect” home! If my house could look a third as cute as her’s did, I’d be happy.

After dinner we played the Newlywed’s Game, but with our Hotdogger partners. The girls of the Midwest team blew everyone out of the ballpark, with 18/20 questions right about each other. I mean, they knew everything down to each other’s favorite type of jeans! (I still claim they had an unfair advantage on some of those – only girl partners would know that about each other!) It came down to Abe and I in the SW and the NW team, tying for second. It was pretty impressive, when asked Abe’s favorite breakfast cereal, we both put “Eggs” down for the answer! I mean, that’s when you REALLY know your partner!

Enough trips to IHOP and the continental breakfast and you just know each other’s egg orders by heart! OM, hashbrowns, and sausage for Abe!

Tuesday was our big day in the office. After a summer wearing khakis, a polo, and tennis shoes, it was hard for me to remember what exactly “business casual” was. It didn’t help that I kind of forgot the weather wasn’t perfect everywhere in the world. I still had my suitcase packed (68lbs and all) with California clothes, which don’t exactly work when it is in the low 60’s in Wisconsin!

We did some recap discussions, about the summer on the road, and it was fun comparing notes with all the different teams about their experiences on the hot dog highways. Then after lunch in the OM cafeteria (no, we don’t live on an all hot dog diet, even back at corporate) we saw the magic of making hot dogs first hand.

We toured the plant, which was producing bun-length hot dogs and square sliced ham and cheese cold cuts. To be honest, I wasn’t fazed in the slightest – food has to be made somehow!

Once we finished the tour we had some serious business to take care of – the Marketing Challenge presentations. Yep, after walking through lunch meats being made which is not exactly a glamorous process, we would then have to present marketing promotion concepts to both of our bosses and three brand managers! There’s nothing like that to get your confidence up!

For the Marketing Challenge each team comes up with a summer promotion concept, which is judged on creativity, feasibility, and newsworthiness. The best part – the winner receives an extra day off, tacked on to one of our vacations! Because the prize was so awesome each of the teams was very hush-hush with what they had planned, so the grand reveals were very fun.

The judges all independently rate the presentations and the tallies were done right on the spot. Drum roll please…….

The Southwest Team won! Whoo!

As if the day off wasn’t prize enough, I also left the office with another present – my new Mizunos!

I had them shipped there and decided to just wait until I could pick them up, so I’ve been eagerly awaiting their arrival for weeks now! I upgraded to the latest model – I’m not sure if it was the allure of even better support or the fact that they screamed badass by being bright pink and green. We all know how much I love those watermelon shoes!

After work, we headed out for another delicious meal. That’s the blessing and curse of coming back to Madison – just like Hot Dog High – it’s always a feast! But hey, it beats the Subway Diet so who am I to complain about a week of free, fantastic meals! It gives me a reason to get some use out of the Mizunos!

To celebrate finishing the marketing challenge and the hardest part of fall staff meeting being over, the team went out to State Street Brats in downtown Madison. It was flip night, where you flip a coin and if you call it right you get 50% off your tab. Of course I would call it right when I was just getting one drink for myself, but the round of shots I bought I called the coin wrong! I should have gone with that old trickster standby my dad taught me when it comes to coin tosses and said, “heads I win, tails you lose!”

The next day was an easy day because we all had to do our 1:1 reviews. With plenty of time to kill during the day I laced up the new kicks and hit the road. It was nice because even though we were at a different hotel than Hot Dog High it was in the same area and I at least knew the roads.

As for running, because I feel obligated to at least mention it on this running blog, my pace had slowly been creeping up these past weeks. Not sure if it was from overtraining (maybe a few too many 50 mile weeks?) poor shoes, or the few extra lbs that have appeared on the road. With the new shoes though, my pace dropped a solid :25 seconds! I even did an 8:19 mile midway through the run. I realized at mile four, on my way back, that maybe the shoes didn’t deserve all the credit, as I was greeted by massive headwinds that I fought the entire way back to the hotel!

On Thursday we wrapped up the staff meeting and were issued our winter gear! I’m a little sad to be in the SW region because I won’t get the chance to wear these awesome winter coats too much around here!

Normally once the staff meeting is over the we would all head out, but with the 25th Year Reunion of Hotdoggers that weekend we got to stick around. Leary of what mischief we might get into in town and under the guise of team bonding, they sent us up to the Kalahari Waterpark Resort in the Wisconsin Dells for two nights – we obviously weren’t upset about that! When we got there the four gentlemen on our team were even able to talk the front desk into upgrading them to a Boy’s Club Suite – lucky dogs!

We had dinner with both of our bosses and did a little cosmic bowling.

The first game we bowled regularly and I ended with a paltry, yet mildly-respectable-at-least-triple-digit score of 105. The second game we bowled under new rules: odd frames left handed, even frames right handed, and the 10th frame was both hands, backwards, through the legs. Not only did I end with a higher score – 107 – but I got a strike in the 10th frame and ended with the highest score out of everyone! Whhaatt??

That night we spent hanging out in the Boy’s Club penthouse suite. Somehow Abe and I both made it through college without ever playing flip-cup, which was corrected that night. I did make for a decent partner in pong with Emma, from the MW team though, as we unseated the reigning four-round champion duo from the NW & NE teams!

We also headed down to the hotel bar for a bit. It’s so weird at those resort hotels – half families, half conventions. The bar was filled with a mix of chiropractors and psychologists – talk about an odd combination. Although they weren’t the most exciting crowd (it must be the orthopedists who really shake a leg) the DJ did play every song we requested, including Mariah Carey’s “All I want for Christmas is You.” When Jessie, from the South team, requested that I could not have been more thrilled. (I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it, but I started playing holiday music about a month ago!)

The next morning was rough, but somehow we all managed to get out of bed for breakfast at Mr. Pancake – which promised to be the best breakfast place in The Dells. I was not disappointed once I tried the peanut butter pancakes they offered, which were unreal.

After breakfast, we did some sight seeing around The Dells. I got a few pains of nostalgia passing Tommy Bartlett’s, Noah’s Arch, and all these other attractions that my dad took my sister and I to back in the day!

While the group stuck around The Dells for one more day, I took off back to Madison to see my sister, who had recently bought a house and a dog. Her and her fiance have done a great job making improvements on the place each week and I was excited to see it after the flow of before and after pictures they had been sending. (Of course I forgot to take any of my own pictures!)

That evening we headed back to the Holiday Inn & Suites in Madison – where Hotdogging all started for Class XXV. This was the hotel we stayed at during second round interviews and where we spent Hot Dog High. And now we were back – for the 25th Year Reunion of Hotdoggers. The Hotdogger program started in 1988 and even celebrating the silver anniversary there are still more people who have been to space than driven the Wienermobile! (You will NOT see Paul Ryan’s name on the invitation list, for the record.)

It was an absolute blast meeting Hotdoggers from Class I all the way up to Class XXIV! Everyone came with Wienermobile apparel from their days driving the big dog.

After doing pictures with the Wienermobile and its little brother LIL LINK, the Mini Cooper Wienermobile, we headed in for the hot dog reception.

What a blast! We watched old recruiting videos (the hair!!) which promised future Hotdoggers the chance to see the country one Superbowl and Mardi Gras at a time! While it’s true we do go to some pretty awesome events, one Hotdogger pointed out that the video failed to mention all the grocery stores we spend our days at!

One speaker (Amit, nicknamed GuAmit since he got to take the big dog to Guam that year) joked about how we have to plead with hotel managers like homeless people to achieve our hotel rate, which come to find out has not changed since the 90’s! We also heard countless stories from past Hotdoggers from their days on the road. Since they are no longer behind the wheel, we got to the real meat of stories too. Let’s just say they got away with a lot more back in the day before GPS tracking. But they also had maps, pagers, and faxes – there are always tradeoffs I guess!

We also heard part of Robin Gelfenbein’s comedy routine called ‘My Salvation has a First Name.’ Hilarious! She writes for the Huffington Post and frequently defends the Hotdogger program’s reputation, especially after the Paul Ryan hulalbaloo.

I also scored a sweet Wienermobile Belt Buckle during the raffle from Tammy, a Mizzou Hotdogger from Class XII. She won it but didn’t think she would ever use it. Hurray! It’s literally the ONE thing I wanted! I think I felt the same level of excitement as the guy in the movie Santa Clause when he finally got his Wiener Whistle!

After the program we all stayed around for drinks. That was the best part – meeting everyone!

Mizzou has been producing Hotdoggers for more than a decade, so of course we had to do a Mizzou Hotdogger Picture!

I even met Ron (pictured in the green shirt) a Mizzou J-School grad who also had a geology degree. Small world right?!

The pictures start get blurrier along with the memories toward this part of the evening!

Abe and I stuck around longer to keep chatting up all the early Hotdoggers – I mean, how often do you get the chance to talk to the Hotdoggers who went to Hawaii, Guam, Europe, and Canada? Later, we ended up joining Class XXV and some other Hotdoggers out downtown at the Essen House, another favorite of the team!

I wouldn’t say the night actually ever ended. I suppose we all got to bed eventually, but Abe and I had to be up about an hour later for our early early flight out of Madison, so it certainly felt like an all-nighter. (Another strategically planned decision to keep us from getting too crazy! haha!) Luckily we caught up on our sleep during a full day of travel!

And here we are, back in the Golden State. This week we were in sunny San Diego and now we’re headed up to the Santa Clarita/Burbank area. As always, if you have any suggestions for where to go, what to do, or who to meet – let me know!

*Thanks to Jackie Calder, Lisa Rosenblum, and Brian Keefe for the photos that I stole off your Facebooks!