Fri. Jan. 12, 2018:
Toronto flight to Charlotte, NC, driving to Hot Springs, VA:
The 4:30am wakeup was unbearable, due in no small part to the boilers quiet nighttime hissing. Making things worse was the fact that Brent had already flown into Charlotte, North Carolina the night before so I had to take TTC to the airport, instead of the usual which is a cab paid for by his company. The whole reason for this impromptu weekender was that he had a one-day meeting and we figured heck, why not.
It was a long bus ride to Kipling- the subway was not open yet, it was that early. At least I had a cherry Coke Zero. Even though it was a Friday the airport was not busy at all. I was almost three hours early, making it just after 6am. In total I waited longer in line at Starbucks than I did checking in and getting through security. My wait would have been even longer had I gone to Timmie’s but it was too early in the day. In retrospect I should have gone. The breakfast sandwich I got from Starbucks was mediocre at best (still better than the only option by my gate, Great Canadian Bagel). Walking to the gate I was having flashbacks to that time we tried to fly to Hartford, I was departing from the same section of the airport. And then over the speaker they announced that the Hartford flight was delayed and taking a detour through Montreal. It was happening all over again! Except this time I just watched from the sidelines. My flight was not as affected by the oncoming bad weather, except for the fact that my gate got changed three times. At least it was only a difference of one gate each time. It made me antsy, I was just hoping my flight would not be delayed. I needed to get out of there before the winter storm arrived.
I tried to listen to podcasts on the plane but inevitably, as always, I fell asleep. Thankfully the seat beside me was empty. There was no coffee being served on our flight so I had to settle for a Coke Zero. I fell back asleep, awoke startled, readjusted and played it off as if it was nothing and fell right back asleep. Once we landed I made a beeline for the Chick-Fil-A that was now open (we had missed the opening of it last time by a month). Despite the breakfast sandwich, I was voraciously hungry. The deluxe chicken sandwich, sans tomato, was so good and it was just what I needed. I stopped in at Starbucks for some much-needed coffee and headed over to the car rental place where id be meeting Brent. Thankfully it was just across the way and I didn’t have to take a shuttle or a train. My phone was not connecting to the Wi-Fi so I resorted to reading Fall On Your Knees. Pretty soon another coffee craving kicked in but now it was too late. I had emailed Brent (the iPad did connect) telling him I was at the car rental place before leaving the airport. The car rental place did not have Wi-Fi, nor did the airport Wi-Fi reach there. I was stuck, dreaming of another cup of coffee. In the end it kind of worked out, we had a four hour drive ahead of us and it was unclear if there would be anywhere to stop.
We had only one scheduled stop on the drive: Publix grocery store. Josh and Chuck, of Stuff You Should Know podcast fame, had been talking up the Publix white cake and I just had to know what it was all about. Plus we needed to grab some singles so I could add to my bottle cap magnet collection. Along the way I also grabbed some Dunkin’ Donuts coffee.
Driving to The Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia we passed through the Allegheny Mountains. Pretty soon the coffee started wearing off and my hunger came back. I don’t know how I was possibly so hungry again already. It was a really pretty drive, with mountain peaks poking out overtop of low fog. Pretty soon though the fog moved away from the mountains and onto the road. Not helping matters were all the 18-wheeler trucks. Oh, and it was getting dark. Pretty soon we could not see the beautiful landscapes, just dark, fog, and the occasional headlight. Soon we were driving on switchbacks through the Allegheny Mountains. It made for interesting views and I was desperate for pictures but there was nowhere to even pull off, the road was narrow. Thankfully we had a car-buddy ahead of us. Brent astutely pointed out that they must be heading to The Homestead as well. We turned to listening to the radio because for some reason Brent’s iPhone wouldn’t play through the USB cable, only through the AUX and we needed to charge it- it also refused to play with both plugged in. Near the mountain top we passed frozen icicle waterfalls. It was all very eerie and creepy but in a beautiful kind of way. It reminded me of the scenery from a horror movie, the creepy bare branches against the dark blue sky, fog everywhere. Eventually the car in front of us caught up to someone who was driving much slower, they pulled over and joined our convoy at the back. We lost them somewhere on the main road, turns out they were not heading to The Homestead. When we got to the hotel and saw our car-buddy emerge from his Land Rover we both had the same reaction: what a yuppie! At check-in I was amused to discover that he even had a yuppie name.
We had been upgraded to a room with a view and a balcony. Except it was dark and raining outside. Our balcony did not have an awning. We didn’t even get a proper view of the hotel with the mountain backdrop. We had a drink in the hotel room before heading out to explore. The Leinenkugel grapefruit shandy was surprisingly good, especially given I don’t particularly like grapefruits or beer.
The arcade was confusing, we had no idea how to pay for the games. We left it for later and took off looking for the hotel and the indoor pool that is fed with hot springs water. The outdoor serenity pool was apparently closed on Saturdays so the indoor pool would have to meet our hot springs needs. The pool was beautiful. We gawked at it from the gym, even still it was awkward to take a picture of. It reminded me of a scaled down version of the pool at Hearst Manor. It had beautiful tiles, gorgeous windows and a nice ceiling. We went back to the arcade. This time we tried swiping a room key in the card reader on the arcade game. Nothing. Just an error message. We went to the concierge and after waiting a really long time (there was a chatty guy who would not shut up and only one person working at the desk) were told to go to the bar to load money onto the card. Of course, who wouldn’t have thought of that, the busy bar that the arcade entrance is near. Makes total, perfect, sense. We flagged the bartender but then an oh-so-polite lady informed Brent that she had been there first. Clearly she does not know how bars work. We loaded money onto the card, Brent got a beer and I borrowed a fork. I had seen a guy with takeout containers so logically I though the bar had plastic cutlery to-go. We needed it for the cake back in the room. The guy handed me a metal fork. I shrugged and put it in my back pocket hoping for the best (aka hoping I don’t fall/get shoved resulting in an awkward-to-explain stabbing injury). Back at the arcade we tried the card. Insufficient funds. Ok, the guy said to wait a few minutes of that happens, it takes a second to load. We did a full circle, determining what we would play. We glanced at the bowling. Brent had said there was a bowling alley in the hotel, it was more a modified bowling game, not a full one. Back to the Pac-Man arcade game, it had been 15-20 minutes and it should work. It did not. Back to the bar which is now even busier. Again we wait, some staff talk to us, no one addresses our issues. Finally, the same bar tender comes back, he had forgotten to put the transaction through. From start to finish it was unbelievable how bad a system they had in place, we complained and a staffer said she agreed. My stomach was hurting pretty bad by this point. I had chugged my beer too fast and now I was super bloated.
I watched in suspense as Brent played Gallaga on the Pac-Man machine. Played a 5-round game of (kids?) bowling. Even with the gutter I was so epically bad at it. I wanted to blame my shoes. It was still fun though. It had taken us so long to actually get credits for the arcade that we didn’t have time for any more games. We had to get changed for dinner. We got dressed while watching Final Jeopardy! and guessing. We also chowed down on the Publix cake which weirdly made my stomach feel better. It was worth all the hype and rave reviews, way above what you would expect of a grocery store vanilla cake.
It was a good thing we had gotten a reservation…not. Other than a few other tables it was pretty empty. Evidently the rich prefer to dress down and eat dinner at a bar. Even though it was a hotel restaurant there was a dress code. In this case it actually seemed to be enforced, everyone around us was dressed to the nines, even the kids. It looked good, especially when people took to the dancefloor while the three-piece ensemble played the theme song to Snoopy. Looking at the dinner menu we opted for appetizers and mains, given we had just eaten dessert in our hotel room. Nothing on the dessert menu stood out either. Brent had a glass of white wine from Virginia that was surprisingly good. I opted for a cocktail with bourbon, another liquor and ginger ale. It was intended to soothe my stomach, however it was more liquor than ginger ale. I nursed it during the whole meal. The lobster bisque with smoked lobster was confusing. When it first arrived, I thought I was being served an amuse bouche: I had been given a giant soup bowl with a tiny quarter-sized piece of something in it. Then the server started pouring and I realized that had been the smoked lobster and he was pouring the bisque. The soup spoon was awkwardly wide, I resorted to eating with the slightly-too-small dessert spoon. I tried a bit of caviar from Brent’s Caesar salad, it was good. His salad got a solid F for eatability. He was presented with one giant romaine lettuce leaf, flat pieces of thin brioche on either side as croutons and a row of caviar down the middle of the leaf. How is anyone supposed to eat that?! Looking over the menu I had assumed that Chateaubriand had to be the vegetarian dish, I had no idea what the name referred to but there weren’t any other vegetarian options. The choice was easy: I’d get the organic roast chicken. Then the server told us that the Chateaubriand was a steak. Dammit, because the sides sounded really good. I ended up going with random.org between the two and the chicken won. The chicken was amazing. I always find it impressive when a chef can take something as plain as chicken and turn it into something so incredible. We traded halfway, but the chicken won ahead of the Allegheny Mountain river-caught trout, by a smidge. The crispy fried grits with my chicken were great at first. Then the sauce ran out and they were just so dry and awful. It was like eating a mealy french fry. As I tried to finish the last bites of my dinner it was nice to watch people dancing. I couldn’t even finish my drink, I relinquished the last few sips to Brent. There was no way in hell we were ordering dessert.
I was so full and my stomach was hurting again. Swimming would have to wait until tomorrow. After resting (and burping) I felt better. Brent poured his beer into a glass and we casually headed down to the lobby. Every time we passed by the mini games room there were different people in there playing chess and working on a puzzle. I got distracted by the puzzle. I just wanted to put two pieces together. And then two more. Brent had to pull me away. The lobby was busy, a mingle of wedding guests and rich guests. Many lobbyist jokes ensued.
We went back to the arcade to finish what we started. The bowling machine ate $3. So instead Brent played Pac Man. Except, adding to the suspense, the top half of the screen was cut off. It was riveting to watch as he disappeared to the top to clear off all the dots. Afterwards we played Star Trek pinball. The machine appeared to eat our first credit, we swiped again and realized we were supposed to push the start button. So really we had two games. It was impossible to tell where one game ended and the next began. I also had no clue what was going on. Brent kept almost losing but then somehow the ball got saved or he got a free ball. A lot of bells, whistles, lights and noises. The game seemed to be going forever. Then I stepped in and immediately lost the ball, which was saved, then I lost it again. Oops, my bad. Our total score was just under 3 million. The lowest score on the leaderboard was 24 million. I don’t understand how the scoring worked!!! There was a kid playing the basketball game next to us. He was trying o get a new highs core and Brent went from encouraging him to shooting a few hoops for him.