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First Impressions

Hello friends, this is Bob Whitten, coming to you once again from beautiful, sunny Thomson, Illinois.

Winter is coming quickly today as I sit at the computer, and as usual, cabin fever has come to the Whitten household again. We try to get away for a weekend in the middle of winter, and this year we will find a way to escape the cold again. Like many years in the past, we will create more memories during our winter escape.

One of my favorite memories is the trip we took to the water park in Dubuque, Iowa. We had been there before, but the rooms were quite expensive at the hotel, so we decided to try other accommodations close to the water park– maybe a little less pricey.

My job was to find a nice place for two adults and four children (the jury is still out as to which category I fit in). I googled my question on the Internet, and soon I had many choices to pick from. Why I made the choice I made is still a mystery to me.

I decided to keep our overnight destination a surprise, partly because I wanted to see the kid’s faces when we pulled in the lot, and partly because I feared I may have made a mistake. In keeping with my non-confrontational ways, I ignored the obvious until it was too late to turn back. My wife had given me a forty-mile radius around Dubuque to find a room, and I used every bit of those forty miles.

It started to snow the night before we took off on our weekend getaway, and it kept snowing until we had eight inches of the white stuff on the ground. That didn’t slow me down one bit. I took the good car to town, filled up the tank, vacuumed it out, and gave it a bath, not realizing that I would freeze the doors shut as soon as I left the car wash. When I got home it was time to gather all the luggage and the pillows and Aldi bag after Aldi bag, filled with all the things we would need for our trip. I popped the trunk, but nothing happened, so I put down a handful of bags and unstuck the trunk with a butter knife, and by the time the kids got home from school that day we were ready to roll. It was just a minor setback that the doors were all frozen but one. We all climbed in the Buick through the driver’s door, and the kids rolled over into the back seat. “The doors will thaw out by the time we get there,” was my stance, and they all seemed to be okay with it. They needed a getaway, too, and even if it meant climbing over a seat to get there, they were willing to go the extra mile.

We grabbed a thermos of coffee and a few snacks, and we took off into a driving blizzard, headed for a room forty miles northwest of Dubuque. My wife questioned me about the accommodations at our secret sleepover destination, but I kept quiet. The kids wanted to know if the hotel had an indoor pool or a game room to which I replied, “You guys are going to an indoor water park with all those things in abundance, so why would you want more when we get to our rooms? All you will be doing is sleeping.”

“But we won’t be sleeping, we plan on staying awake all weekend,” was their answer.

Somewhere within that statement was a phrase that pointed out a fatal flaw in my plan.

We drove and drove. There were cars in the ditch everywhere, and by the time we got to Dubuque, it was just us and the snow plows. The kids were very excited as we drove past the water park, and they were on the edge of their seats from that point on. As we drove on, they all noticed the big sign saying “Welcome to Wisconsin,” and I told them not to worry, we would be there soon.

My wife was quiet. The next sign we saw said, “Welcome to Iowa.” My wife broke her silence.

“Where are you taking us?” she asked. “Be patient.” I told her.

When we got to our overnight destination we were overwhelmed. It was a huge old house on a mountain, a bed and breakfast, to be precise. “We’re staying in a bed and breakfast?” my wife asked. Then came the rest of the questions. “How much did this cost?” “Did you tell them we had four kids with us?” The kids chimed in. “Do they have cable?” “Is there even a TV in our room?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, they have a TV.”

The look on the owner’s face when we all piled out of the Buick through the driver’s door was priceless. We had two adjoining rooms right in the middle of the house. There were little doilies everywhere, pillow shams and little mints on the beds. In the fridge were snacks like cheese cake and peanuts and a few bottles of flavored water.

The kids tore through the place, claiming their spots and eating everything in the fridge before I could tell them each item in the fridge cost five bucks, and soon they dug their swimsuits out and we were on our way to the water park. Again, we got quite a few looks as we all piled back in the Buick through the driver’s door. All the couples in the house were curious. Their curiosity would soon turn to disdain, but for now their eyes were glued to us, much like the people in a local village when a carnival comes to town.

We got back to the rooms about 8 p.m., and all was quiet. Not to worry– we brought it to life in an instant. The kids set up a DVD player on the fifteen-inch TV, cranked it up loud, and went through the cupboards again until the only thing left was the bill. They were true to their word; they stayed up all night.

My favorite part was the next morning, when we went to the formal breakfast in the main dining room of the house.

The table was set for twenty, complete with three forks and two water glasses at each place setting and fruit displays in the shape of animals. There we were, the six of us, all very tired and grumpy from being up all night. The other six other couples were very tired from being kept awake all night, and a very distraught owner was trying to keep the peace. There were crepes and French toast, bacon and sausage, melon balls and cantaloupe all shaped into beautiful sculptures; everything neat and tidy in it’s own place.

Within a matter of seconds it was all gone, leaving the other couples with just a few scraps and sending the chef into a frenzy as she tried to keep up with my kids.

When we packed up and got in the Buick, they were all watching again as we carried Aldi bag after Aldi bag out to the car, but this time the mood was different. They weren’t curious any more, just happy to see us go, kind of like a small village watching a carnival leave town, proving the theory that first impressions aren’t always right.

I don’t get to pick the hotels anymore, but I don’t mind. I’m probably not the guy to be doing that anyway.

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