Saturday 22 May 2004

Now THAT's the Way to Get a Souvenir!


We went to Green Bay on Saturday. We had as our mission picking up Reepicheep when he flew into Green Bay's airport around 8:00 (2000 hrs) Saturday evening, so it seemed the perfect day to visit the home stadium of Our Green Bay Packers.

...Yes, "Our" Green Bay Packers! The NFL's Green Bay franchise is the ONLY publicly-owned professional sports franchise in America! There is NO single owner; no "ownership group"; no megalomaniacal Marge Schott-style Nazi or international corporation who owns the Packers and has absolute control over the team. Rather, the Packers are owned by a group of common share-holders! The original stocks were sold a zillion years ago when the Acme Packing Corporation first sponsored the fledgling team, and further shares of Packers stocks have been sold two (I think two) additional times since then. The latest offering was a few years ago at which time Maxine and the kids bought me a single share (for a hundred bucks I think? ) of Green Bay Packers stock for Fathers Day or my birthday or something(?). The stocks are not like regular Wall Street stocks - they don't increase in value, they don't provide dividends or anything like that. But that does make me an Official OWNER of the Green Bay Packers football team! I could even attend the shareholders meetings if I wanted and vote on various issues, although I never have and probably never will.

So it is indeed accurate for me to refer to the Green Bay NFL franchise as "MY" Packers!


On our way to Lambeau Field we had a delicious breakfast at Denny's in Green Bay (although the typical "breakfast hour" had looooong since passed! ). While there we had the most remarkable experience!...

The previous weekend we had a birthday party for Amber, who turned 14 on the 19th. We rented a hotel room at our favorite hotel in Oskaloosa (where we live) so the kids could swim in the nice indoor pool. Amber invited some of her friends from our homeschooling group and they had a great time swimming, watching DVDs, and staying up all night in the hotel room.

While waiting for our food at Denny's in Green Bay an elderly couple approached us and asked, "Were you in Oskaloosa, Iowa, last weekend?" Our jaws dropped in unison and amazement and we told her that, of course, we had been ...because we LIVE there. Oskaloosa is the nearest town of any size to Pella, Iowa, a largely Dutch community that holds a nationally recognized Tulip Festival each spring which celebrates Dutch culture and the history of Dutch immigrants to America. The Festival draws literally hundreds of thousands of visitors to the tiny town of Pella, a town that is nowhere nearly large enough to have hotel accommodations for that many people. Tulip Time visitors always end up having to stay in the hotels in surrounding towns, often as far as Des Moines, 50 miles away from Pella. As it happened, these folks had been lucky enough to get a room as close to Pella as Oskaloosa. They had stayed in the same hotel in which we held Amber's birthday party!

But, to me, the remarkable thing is not that we and they had stayed in the same hotel at the same time in Oskaloosa and then just happened to dine at the same restaurant in Green Bay the following week. To me the truly amazing thing is not only that, but that they also just happened to recognize us and remember where they had seen us!!

I have no doubt that such things happen all the time - people from different places bumping into each other in a completely different places twice. But in almost every case, neither party recognizes the other. And even if one group does recognize the other, I would bet that most times the people either can't remember why they recognize the other or where they know them from. Add to that the reluctance most people have of walking up to a perfect stranger and telling them of the coincidence and one must surely admit that the odds are tremendous of such a thing ever happening!

Needless to say, we were utterly astounded!

With our mouths still in our laps, we marveled at the chance encounter with people to whom we had shared a hotel just the week before. Then we ate a hearty breakfast, still amazed at what had just occurred.

Then, at one point during the meal, John suddenly vanished! Although Green Bay is far from a megalopolis, we were most disconcerted that he had disappeared - even more so that none of us had even seen him leave the table, let alone knew where he went! I immediately jumped from the table to see if I could find where he'd gone. I should have known! We all should have.

On the way into the restaurant John had spied a crane machine. In case you don't know what a "crane machine" is, it's a scam disguised as a game. Most would agree that it's a total rip-off. A glass case is filled with desirable items (usually toys or stuffed animal dolls) and there is a moveable crane with extremely thin "fingers" which can, at least in theory, pick up an item from among the toys, at which time it drops the item into a hole that leads to a chute which delivers the prize to the operator who was gullible enough to put money in the stupid thing.

In practice it is nearly impossible to actually pick up anything with the tiny claws on the crane no matter how many times you try your luck. The inevitable outcome of The Crane Machine is that each time you fail you will say, "Oh, man! I almost got it that time!!" and you'll throw some more money into it to try your luck again. And again. And again... Obviously, the economic point is that it would cost far less money, on average, to simply go to a store and buy the item outright than most people spend trying to "win" the prize.

But. The people who make and own The Crane Machine never count on the Johnnies of the world. He wins almost every time he throws the first coins into the thing! Literally!! Almost every time! And the crane machine is FAR from an exception! John is the luckiest son of a buck the world has ever seen!!! I won't bother to provide every example of this boy's incredible luck at contests and such (I doubt I even could!). Most of us can honestly say "I've never won anything in my entire life! " Even people who sign up for every contest, drawing, lottery, and raffle learn that they almost never win more than a handful of rare times. And if you examined the number of times these people have entered such contests and compare it to the frequency of times they actually win, we would see that their odds of winning isn't all that greater than those of us who never sign up for ANYTHING.

Then there's John. I would only be exaggerating slightly to say that he wins EVERYTHING he enters/signs up for/plays/tries. We've tried - we've honestly TRIED - to teach him the meaning of odds and statistics -- to teach him that no one succeeds every time they try something. But whenever we try to teach him this important lesson we end up looking like fools because, with John, there IS no such thing as "odds"!! He enters -- he wins. Period.

In fact, one time he didn't win at the crane machine (he was trying to win a wristwatch for his sister). But the man who maintains the machine happened to be standing right there, ready to re-stock the machine (or perhaps I should say he was ready to empty the money box! ). When he saw that John hadn't won, he opened the glass case, asked John what he had been trying to win, reached in, grabbed the watch, and simply gave it to John as a kind gesture. I'm sure the poor dope figured this little kid -- like us mere mortals who've tried the stupid contraption -- had just failed for the fiftieth time in a row, and that he had earned some kind of prize. Perhaps he was simply a kind-hearted man; or perhaps he was hoping that such a kind gesture would make this kid more likely to come back and spend some more money on his crane machine in the future.

Either way, the man chose the wrong kid to be charitable to. The irony is that although those machines make money off of suckers, in this particular case the generous proprietor is the one who got suckered! Given one or two more attempts, Johnny undoubtedly would have won that watch! ...and, knowing his luck, he would have accidentally grabbed a diamond ring at the same time!

John suddenly went missing from our table at the restaurant in Green Bay. Obviously, when I got up to find him, slightly more than half of me was worried SICK! But the other half of me was going to rip his freaking head off once I found him for just running off from us! As soon as I saw the crane machine, I knew exactly where John would be found. Sure enough, there he was. He had just dropped his first fifty cents into the machine and was in the process of "trying his luck" ("luck!" if! ).

When I stormed up to him, raging mad, I startled the crud out of the poor boy, and he (rightfully) feared for his life. Clearly he could barely control the crane, let alone concentrate on making the most of his fifty cents. He stuttered and stammered at me, desperately trying to find a suitable explanation for why he'd disobeyed the rules and had walked off from us. He said, "I - I was just trying to win that Wisconsin cap as a souvenir...," pointing to a baseball cap that said "Wisconsin" on it as he half-heartedly manipulated the crane's controls out of the corner of his eye. Dad was mad; suddenly there were far more important considerations than the silly cap he was trying to snag.

I was just about to say, "John, I don't care if God spoke in your ear and told you to leave the table, you KNOW what we've said: you're not to go ANYWHERE alone while we're in the big city," or something like that. But then I looked at the crane. It was no longer empty. It now was holding the Wisconsin cap. As John saw me looking at it in amazement, he turned back to the crane as it deposited his new souvenir into the chute.
{where's the slap-my-own-forehead "D'Oh!" emoticon when I need it?!}

Most people would gladly give their left arm to have HALF that kid's luck! But, shoot, if they had his kind of luck, the person would end up making medical history when their arm amazingly grew back!

I've seen John's luck in action so many times that I shouldn't be at all amazed by it anymore. But I am. When I saw that he won that cap I just didn't have it in me to scold him further. Perhaps God DID speak in his ear and told him to leave the table and find the crane machine!

To his credit, John typically keeps only a tiny fraction of his winnings. The vast majority of it he gives away to friends, family members, or sometimes to complete strangers! As usual (and possibly to ensure that I never finished the "Don't walk away from us!" Lecture), he made a gift of his new cap, giving it to Reepicheep the next day. He really is a good boy!


And, no. We've never asked him to choose lottery tickets for us.


And, no again. This wasn't the last thing he would win on this trip. It wasn't even the last thing he won that DAY!




Cheese-Head's Paradise!


After our lovely breakfast at Denny's {drool!} we made our way to Lambeau Field. It was the first trip to Green Bay for the kids and I, and, as life-long "cheese-heads" (i.e., Green Bay Packers fans), the trip was a dream come true for John and me!

We dropped waaaay too much money in the Packers Pro Shop (a two-story souvenir store inside the Lambeau Field Atrium). We already had plenty of Packers paraphernalia at home. But somehow it seems different when it's purchased at the actual home of the team! (Different... Yeah! As in three times more expensive ) And there was a MUCH wider selection of Packers junk than we could ever find at any store at home.

( ...sounds like a reasonable excuse to me! )

Maxine shocked me by expressing the desire to go on the hour-long tour! Poor girl has rheumatoid arthritis which affects her knees so badly that she usually has to walk with a cane, and often requires a wheel chair. Thankfully, the new medication her doctor recently put her on is helping at least a bit. By the end of the tour she was hurtin' pretty bad, but she made it! I honestly doubted she'd be able to. I think she paid dearly for it in the days that followed, but if so, she never told me about it. She was a real trooper. And the tour was something I'll never forget. And I better not ever forget it since it's probably the only time I'll see it in person! The Packers don't sell single-game tickets and there are more than 64,000 people on the thirty-year waiting list for season tickets. So I highly doubt I'll ever see a game there.

At the end of the Lambeau Tour, just before our tour guides turned us loose, they said that one of the thirty or so people in our tour group had won a free video about Lambeau Field or the Packers or some such thing. Maxine, Amber and I all rolled our eyes in unison, knowing exactly who would win the video. The tour guide told each of us to look at our ticket to see who would win; we all wanted to tell the rest of the group not to bother. Sure enough, John won the video tape. Of course!

It was a very fun trip. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to visit what is perhaps the best part of visiting Lambeau Field -- the Packers Hall of Fame. But Mick and Jo are also Packer-Backers (especially Jo!! ) and they told us it would take a real Packers fan (like us) at least a couple hours to see everything there is to see in the Packers Hall of Fame. With that sage advice in mind we decided to try and make a second trip to Lambeau to check out the Hall of Fame either later in the week or in a future trip to the area.

Whoopy & Whoopy Jr.

Amber & John with Curly Lambeau

Whoopy at Lambeau - a dream come true!
Of the 30 or so people in our tour group do I even have to tell you who won the free video tape? Good ole Johnny.



Playing Keep-Away With Reepicheep

Throughout the day we continued to stay in touch with Mick and Jo by cellular phone. It was fun talking with them and knowing where they were and how things were progressing with the party and such. But, although we'd talked on the telephone a number of times over the years, we'd never actually met face-to-face. And, in a way, it was agonizing to know that we were SO CLOSE to them without actually seeing them! But, then... in February it had seemed that the date for the party would never arrive! I'd waited this long and still survived; surely a few more hours wouldn't kill me. ...Or would it??

We killed an hour or so shopping at K-Mart. It took our minds off the crushing anticipation. Plus, there were a few things we hadn't had room in the car to bring along, so we were able to get them now that we'd arrived. (And they had tons of Packers stuff that wasn't available in the Packers' Pro Shop -- and things were a LOT less expensive! )

Reep's plane was due to arrive at the Green Bay airport around 7:49 pm (1949 hrs) -- you know... approximately 7:49. It could have been 7:48 and :54 seconds or 7:49 and a half I suppose...
Hee hee! I love how precise the airline departure and arrival times are -- as if they're actually going to be on time! Heck, it's amazing when they arrive in the same HOUR as was scheduled!!! Why even list the minutes?? ...let alone a time like "7:49"! I got a kick outta that.

A little before 7:00 we hustled out of the store. We were really afraid we'd be late in picking up Reepi since we'd never been to Green Bay's airport before. But I had printed several extremely detailed maps of the place, so I was confident we'd get there on time. As it turned out, we get there in plenty of time! you will soon see...

I was highly doubtful that the plane would be early (what are the odds of THAT?!?), so the kids and I hit the airport's video arcade while we waited for 7:49 to arrive. Just in case the impossible happened, Maxine sat at the arrival gate on the lookout for Philip's plane. I had printed a little sign that said, REEPI, like you see in the movies, just in case we didn't recognize one another. I beat Amber in video bowling , she beat me in Ms. Pac-Man , and John enjoyed the pinball game.

7:49 came and went. 7:49 and-a-half even came and went. Believe it or not, Philip's plane still wasn't there at 7:50!! (The NERVE!!!) LOL We took turns holding the little REEPI sign (hee hee!) and watching the airline's video screen schedule. A number of flights out of O'Hare (where Reepicheep's flight had a layover or plane-switch or something) were cancelled or delayed. But not Reep's flight. It remained "On Schedule". Or so the sign said. We wondered if the Euros' flight had been affected by the weather. We sure hoped not!

Sometime after eight o'clock (I suspect it was around 8:23 - hee hee...) Maxine suggested I go outside for a cigarette break -- a suggestion I've never been known to reject. She said she'd call my cell-phone and let it ring once if Reep's flight arrived while I was killing a few alveoli. Sure enough, about halfway through my second snide, my phone rang!! "Yea! Reepi's here!!!" I dropped my half-finished coffin-nail (something I'm loathe to do under normal circumstances!) and headed back to the terminal. Before I could reach the door, my phone rang a second time. "Hmmm... She said she'd ring once when Philip's plane arrived," I thought. So I checked the number. Nope. Not Maxine. So I answered. It was Reepicheep!!

"...wait a minute... They let you use the plane's cell-phone when you've just landed???"

Nope. They don't. Although Reepi had indeed just landed, he had landed in Minneapolis!!! The bad weather had forced a change of plans. I'm not quite sure why bad weather would make you go farther than planned , but I'm not a pilot. (...I just play one on my computer. )

In any event, Reep said his flight probably wouldn't arrive in Green Bay until 11:00 (2300 hrs) or so. We were disappointed that our meeting with Philip would have to be delayed, but we were certainly thankful to know about it! It would have been somewhat disconcerting to have sat in the airport for another three hours wondering what had happened to Reep's flight! The stupid airline schedule video screen still showed Reep's flight to be "On Time" (yeah - obviously LOL) and the gate area was filled with people who were obviously waiting on the same flight as Reep's. They were growing more than a bit impatient. So we passed the word that the flight had been re-routed to Minneapolis and that it would now arrive around 11 PM.

Some of the waiting people were visibly grateful to receive some kind of news. Others seemed dubious, reluctant to take the word of a total stranger, especially when he (that is, ME) was relaying the message given him by someone else they didn't know via a supposed telephone conversation! I do wonder if and when the airline posted the change. I also wonder how many people took my word for it and how many stayed there and continued to wait despite hearing our news. And, considering the next phase of this bizarre saga, I wonder how many of them finally went away thinking I had gotten the message wrong or had passed along only partially correct information. But now I'm getting ahead of myself...

Maxine and the kids had a serious seafood jones happenin', so we had desperately hoped we would find time to visit a seafood restaurant while on vacation. This delay in Reep's flight allowed just that! We soon found a Red Lobster and we had a wonderful feast of dead sea creatures. The kids were allowed to order lobster and crab legs (their favorites!) since it was a special occasion. Yummy!





Memo to Israeli Security Forces: Watch and Learn from us Experts!

I took the time to call Mick from the Red Lobster parking lot during a cigarette break. I learned that he and Steve had successfully procured two pair of Euros who seemed every bit as excited to be here as the rest of us. They had left O'Hare and Chicago some time ago, and, if I recall correctly, they were somewhere near the Illinois-Wisconsin border, though I don't know which state they were in when we spoke.

I was told that there had been a rather lengthy delay at the airport and that the story was quite funny, but I was informed that I would have to wait to hear the whole story until it could be related to me in person. That was cause for much wondering and speculation at our dinner table, to be sure.

As we later learned, Progi, Ferdi, Adler, and Björn had arrived safely enough, but they had been detained by the U.S. Customs Service. Apparently there were some important questions that needed to be answered before they could be released into the custody of the somewhat suspicious-looking MJPatterson and the Australian-born Steve Brown.

Among the questions that were asked of them were, "Are you a terrorist or do you plan on conducting any terrorist acts while in the United States?" Now THAT's an important question to ask! Just think, if we had asked that before 9-11, the twin towers would surely still be standing.

Additionally, they were apparently asked if they had participated in the Holocaust in the 1930's and '40's. Oooooo-kay... I want the remaining criminals of the Third Reich to be brought to justice as much as anyone, but... Just as the cashier is required by law to ask to see my identification when I buy cigarettes even though only a person suffering profound mental retardation would ever mistake me for a twenty-year-old, I suppose it doesn't matter that none of our four European guests were even old enough to have worked at a Nazi concentration camp, they still must be asked! Of course! And of course WHO WOULD LIE about such a thing?!?

I certainly wish we could go to a similar "honor-system" when it comes to purchasing smokes! ...

  * * * * * * * 

 Cashier: - "Are you old enough to buy these?"

 Me: - "Yup."

 Cashier: - "Are you sure??"

 Me: - ...mmm... Yep.

 Cashier: - "Oh! Okay. Here's your cigarettes. Have a nice day!"

  * * * * * * *

I don't know if ALL non-Americans arriving at our airports are asked these critical questions or if perhaps our European friends were foolishly goose-stepping as they debarked the plane. Or maybe Adler's Mine-Cake recipe threw some red flags up. In any event, it's certainly comforting to know that such strict and effective anti-terrorist measures are now in place at our airports.

I don't know who's the bubble-headed bureaucrat who invents and implements such brilliant "security policies", but he has clearly studied the methods of Col. Klink and Sgt. Schultz and undoubtedly received his post-graduate degree from the Stalag Thirteen University of Performing Idiotic Duties - also known as the College of S.T.U.P.I.D.

In any event, at least our European friends were wise enough not to choose that particular time to crack an inappropriate (albeit well-deserved) smart-aleck joke. Instead they all apparently scored 100% on their "Are You a Terrorist or International Criminal?" Test (obviously proving beyond any doubt that they were neither) and they were eventually allowed to leave the airport with Steve and Mick. *whew!*

It was good to hear that Mick and Steve had better luck picking up their passengers than I had so far encountered.




More Hide-and-Seek With Reepicheep


After our fine meal of aquatic cuisine at Red Lobster, I calculated that we had just barely enough time to drive to App1eton and back. I half-expected Reep's "eleven o'clock" arrival time to be later than stated, I figured the kids might end up somewhat sleepy by that time, I knew Maxine's knees HAD to be killing her after all the day's walking, and I also knew Reepi had probably flown in the coach section. If so, I figured he had already spent plenty of hours crammed elbow-to-elbow with strangers, which is exactly how it would have been for him riding in our car on the trip to App1eton if all four of us had stayed until his arrival. So I hastily drove the rest of the Whoopy-family back to the hotel in App1eton.

I had somewhat miscalculated the time required to go from the Red Lobster in Green Bay to our hotel in App1eton and back to the Green Bay airport. So I suppose I broke more than a few traffic laws in trying to get back to the Green Bay airport by 11:00. And this was a tremendous risk! From what I saw while in Wisconsin, the Three Most Plentiful Things in that fair state are 1.) Dairy Products, 2.) Packers fans, and 3.) COPS!! And not only do they have cops, they have cops who are serious about their job!! I saw an incredible number of people pulled over and being given tickets for speeding -- way too many to keep an accurate count, but it was a LOT! - more than I've ever seen anywhere in all my travels!

Actually, there's one thing I should have included in the Most Plentiful Things in Wisconsin list: paved roads! In Iowa the city streets are paved, the federal and state highways are obviously paved, and pretty much all the county highways have some sort of hard-top surface. But we also have a great many local country roads. These are laid out in a grid across almost the entire state. Almost no matter where you go in Iowa there's a road every single mile north-south and east-west. These roads are almost exclusively gravel roads. Personally I hate gravel roads, but after 37 years with them, I guess I've grown accustomed to their existence, although I try to avoid them whenever possible.

But in Wisconsin there seems to be no such thing as a gravel road! (Or at least very nearly so!) I had heard many times before that all the roads in Wisconsin are paved and I certainly found it to be true on this particular trip. Obviously this must have cost (and must continue to cost) tremendous sums of money!! I suppose the police, therefore, have an unusually high burden of revenue collection in Wisconsin. The American police force's primary duty is the collection of revenue; this is true pretty much everywhere in the U.S. But it seems particularly true in Wisconsin, and I have little doubt that their immaculate road system plays no small role in causing this to be true.

Fortunately I wasn't caught. Very fortunately! ...because I was movin' pretty darn fast most of the way back to Green Bay! Despite my break-neck pace, I was only able reach the airport a few minutes after 11:00. I was most concerned that poor Philip, already the victim of multiple inconveniences that day, would be wandering around the airport wondering where in the world the Whoopy-Cat was. As it turned out, I needn't have worried.

I had just pulled into the short-term parking lot - in fact, I still had the parking ticket in my hand! - when my phone rang. Again. It was Philip. Again. Would you believe...? His flight has been diverted once again due to inclement weather. He was presently sitting in the airport... APPLE-TON!!!!!

We had a good laugh about that. I never even parked the car in the G.B. airport's parking lot! In hindsight, it is yet another poor testament to our "increased airport security" that the ticket booth attendant never even asked me why I was exiting the airport parking lot less than thirty seconds after arriving and getting my parking lot ticket! It bothers me that it apparently didn't signal even a tiny red flag in his head but, at the time, I was happy to not be stopped for interrogation when my friend was sitting in an airport 45 minutes away waiting on me.

So I went back to App1eton. By this time I imagined God looking down upon me, His head swiveling back and forth as if He was watching a tennis match as I drove the road between Green Bay and App1eton once again. ...Still without Reepicheep in the car with me!

As I pulled up to the terminal at the sleepy little App1eton airport, I spotted Philip sitting in the terminal; I could see him even before I had parked the car! (Who could have guessed my spotting abilities would be so acute considering my reputation with PG2 recons?!? )

My mission was finally completed with success!





Finally Meetin' The Boys!


It was truly a pleasure to finally be meeting my friend Reepicheep! But he was understandably tired, so I took him straight to his hotel (which was conveniently on the very same road as Apple-ton's airport) where he undoubtedly went swiftly to sleep. Midnight is rather late for ol' Reepi to still be awake.
Whoopy-Cats, on the other hand, are just getting their second wind around midnight! Numerous phone calls from Mick's house had told me of the arrival of the Main Body of troops from Chicago and of their progress in getting settled in their new home-away-from-home. To my mind, it was simply unacceptable to know that so many friends were such a short distance away; I simply had to go see them before bedtime!

...Besides, my poor computer had been bouncing around in the trunk of our car for a full 36 hours! I was concerned about all the un-backed-up data on my fragile hard drive, not to mention its exposure to various climatic extremes over the past two days! Plus, I certainly wanted to be able to use it as soon as possible (I was having moderate to severe computer withdrawals by this point! ), and I knew better than to try and start up a computer that had just been brought in from the cold, damp trunk. So it seemed wise to get ye ol' computer over to Mick's house ASAP where it would be safe and sound and so that it could become fully acclimated to the indoors temperatures by the time I wanted to use it the next day.

Well... at least that's the excuse I told myself. In truth I just couldn't wait another twelve hours to see the guys!

The road to Mick's house, although seemingly simple on the many maps I had printed and thoroughly studied, was a bit more difficult to find and navigate than I had presumed. Although it was theoretically only 15 minutes or so from our hotel, it took me considerably longer than that to actually get there and find Mick's home. At one point I blew right past it and ended up on a deserted dead-end road in a desolate area. So I turned around for another try.

When I was very near Mick's house my keen Whoopy-eyes noted a deer crossing the road closely followed by another. I stopped to wait for them to cross and while I watched, the two of them ran around in a tight circle, like a pair of dogs chasing each others tails! Deer are not uncommon near our house in Iowa, but I've never seen anything like that! It was quite a strange sight to me.

Soon I got yet another call from Mick and he talked me into the proper driveway. Moments later I was in Mick and Jo's house, surrounded by familiar faces of people I had never met! I'm well aware of how differently people look in pictures than in person, so I was half-expecting to not recognize a single person. But that wasn't the case. Other than Progi's son, Christian, whom I'd never seen a picture of, I immediately recognized everyone!

Adler was fast asleep and Björn was trying to do the same but was just awake enough to be able to get up so we could greet each other. Other than Kameron, Björn was really the only person at the party with who I was not previously quite familiar. But we got to spend a great deal of time together over the next few days and I found him to be an incredibly personable fellow who I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know!

Unless you've experienced it yourself, I simply cannot adequately explain what it's like to meet people you know very well and whose pictures you've seen on many occasions, but whom you've never actually met. Just as with Philip earlier that evening, I found that Progi was exactly as I had pictured him and, although Steve was not at all what I had previously pictured in my mind, I recognized him immediately. Mick and I have talked often enough on the telephone and have exchanged family pictures enough that I had no problem recognizing him and his wife Jo and son Kameron. They were exactly what I expected -- truly wonderful people one and all!

Immediately upon my arrival, and after we had greeted each other, I was presented with a set of authentic World War II U.S. dog tags. I couldn't help but ask, "Who died?!?" But when I read what the dog tags said, I realized that it was MY name on the tags. Mick and Jo had taken the trouble to make a set of dog tags for each of us to help commemorate the event. One tag had our name and nickname on it; the other said, "PG2 Party 3.0 Survivor, Stephensville, WI, May 2004." We all wore them with great pride! It was a wonderful idea!! Maxine and I had been trying to come up with something similar for literally months to no avail. I give great credit to the Marchands for coming up with such an ingenious and inventive way for each of us to remember the event! ( if any of us would EVER forget the event! )

I spent a couple hours talking with everyone, hearing about their adventures with the U.S. Customs Department at O'Hare, and generally getting to know each other further. Words simply cannot express what a joyful couple hours that was! I am continually tempted to use the word 'reunion' although that would obviously be an inaccurate term since most of us had never actually met one another before that day. But that's what it felt like - a reunion of old friends.

For some unexplained reason I had never even considered the fact that the Euros would speak with an accent. Same with our Aussie-born friend Steve. For whatever reason it had never even occurred to me! After all, none of them write with a discernable accent! At first that was really strange to me. I could understand what they were saying perfectly, but it took me a couple days to get used to it. But soon I was so accustomed to it that I barely even noticed. And despite their conspicuous Danish, Swedish, and German accents I never once had any trouble understanding what they were saying. All of them seemed to be completely fluent in English -- which is far more than I can say for us Americans' command of the Danish, Swedish, and German languages!

We mourned the fact that not everyone would be able to make it to the party. Matt (aowwt) had hoped to join us, but his second job had made that impossible. Chris (Lobo) and his family were also supposed to attend, but circumstances conspired against them such that, first his wife and daughter were prevented from coming, and in the end even Lobo himself wasn't able to make it. If the others felt the same as I did we all felt bad for them that they couldn't make it, but almost felt worse for ourselves that we wouldn't have the joy of their company. But we consoled ourselves with the hope that they would be able to make it to some future Panzer Gathering.

After bringing my computer in from the cold trunk of the car and spending a couple hours gabbing with everyone I decided I had better get back to the hotel since Maxine and the kids were presumably asleep and had no idea that I had driven to Stephensville that night.

I think I will always remember and relish that first meeting of all these friends I'd never met before that night. The days that followed are little more than a blur to me, but they were easily the most enjoyable days I've spent doing anything in a great many years -- and quite possibly the most fun I've EVER had in my life!

This night had one last rather amusing episode in store for me. When I arrived at the hotel it was raining quite hard so I parked as close to the main entrance as possible and sprinted to the door. As I tried to enter through the lobby I was greeted by a locked door and a little sign politely informing me that the lobby doors were always locked after midnight. A doorbell was provided for the convenience of people who found themselves locked out like I was. Unfortunately, a doorbell is of little use when there's no one around to hear it ring!

Repeated ringing of the bell resulted in no response whatsoever and I soon realized that continuing to stand there ringing the doorbell was getting me nothing but wetter from the rain. I looked for a slot into which I could slide my key-card but there was none. So I decided to leave the relative shelter of the canopy which partially covered the main entrance and went in search of an alternate point of entry. Eventually I found another door which was equipped with a card-reader so that I could use my card-key to finally get indoors, but not before I had been drenched with somewhere near 80 trillion gallons of rain water.

...A fitting end to the Whoopy-Cat's misadventurous day in Wisconsin.



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