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Our Trip to Chicago (Day 1)

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It was a dark and stormy night... except that it was about five o'clock in the afternoon and the sun was out. I had come home from work just a little while ago to finish getting ready to leave, as we were planning to leave around 5-5:30. Treeses still wasn't home yet, and there was a message on the machine from a stressed out Joe (AdviceJoe.com), Treeses' brother, saying that he wasn't ready yet and it would be really okay with him if we were late. Somehow, I don't think ya need to worry about it, dude. It was around 6-6:30 before Christy, Treese, and I were finally in the car. Okay, okay, hold on here, I know what you're thinking... Christy, Joe, Treeses, and me? What kind of trip was this? Only Joe, Treese, and I were going. Christy was just driving us to my parents house where the rest of us would be spending the night. And the reason for the trip, besides Treese seriously needing a vacation, was to attend Nina's graduation from Navy boot camp. Why did Nina (Joe and Treese's sister, for those of you who are a bit slow), a nice young woman who doesn't like the water join the Navy? Well, that's another story, for another time.

Anyway, so we're in the car, ready to go, when Treeses jumped out to get something. Dum-di-dum-d-dum... okay, she's back and we're ready again... oh, wait, where... glasses... crap... and she got out again. Christy followed after Treeses still couldn't find them, while I just waited patiently in the car. They returned, with Treeses' glasses, which were under the mail. Okay, so everyone's back in the car, and this time we actually left. Treeses was driving, I was in the passenger seat, and Christy was in the back. I hooked up the CD player to get some tunes going. Christy handed me her Metallica And Justice For All disc, so I popped that in, but we quickly learned that the CD player had some kind of grudge against it, as each song would play for less than a second before there was just silence, and then a tiny bit more of the song, and then more silence. It was weird, too, because there were no scratches or fingerprints on the disc. So we replaced the CD with that of Kelly Clarkson. This disc played fine, but just about every song on it was a slow one, which doesn't help on a long drive, so we quickly swapped that out with yet another album... one that you might not expect...

The album was Metallica's And Justice For All. No, we're not retarded, this one was my disc, and although it had a few minor scratches on it, for some reason the CD player liked it a lot better than the other one. But Treeses didn't really like the first song, so we skipped ahead to Christy's favorite, Harvester Of Sorrow. That was toward the end of the disc, so we listened to the rest of the songs, all of which Treeses liked except for the last one, because it was an instrumental and she doesn't like instrumentals. Or as she says, she'd like them a lot more if they had singing. So after that came Metallica's Ride the Lightning, which is the first CD that we listened to all the way through. Next we listened to her favorite Metallica album, the self-titled one commonly called the black album. After three Metallica CDs it was time for something a little lighter, so we popped in "Weird Al" Yankovic's Running With Scissors album. It was a nice change from the constant metal, so after that we listened to Al's newest album, Poodle Hat. Treeses still had not heard the whole thing yet, and... well, she still wouldn't, as we skipped the songs Why Does This Always Happen To Me and Bob because Christy wanted to hear EBay, the Backstreet Boys parody. By the time we were on the last song, Genius In France, we arrived at Joe's house in Sacramento. We stepped inside for a few minutes while he gathered his things, and then we were off once again, and this time we didn't listen to any more CDs. None. Nada. Zip. So now let me go back over what we listened to, song by song, so you can have a better understanding of what the drive to Sacramento was like for us...

Okay, now that the people who really don't want to read this have left, I can continue. We just talked most of the way down to Vallejo... or I should say they mostly talked. I just listened, and brought out the Game Boy for a little while. It's hard to play it for too long though, as it starts hurting your hands and neck trying to hold that thing close enough to your face to see what the hell is going on. Victor had put four of his games, Wario Ware, Inc, Golden Sun, Ninja Cop, and Bubble Bobble, on a cartridge for me so that I wouldn't have to carry around a bunch of games. Wario Ware, Inc is basically just a lot of really quick mini games that test your reflexes. It was fun at first, but kind of got repetitive and boring as time went on. I definitely didn't find it as addicting as Victor. Ninja Cop, on the other hand, was quite fun. It reminded me a lot of Bionic Commando (a favorite game of mine), as the ninja has a grappling hook that works similar to the bionic arm, although the ninja's grappling hook is a bit more versatile. I'm looking forward to the Game Boy Player so that I can play this game on a normal sized screen.

Golden SunThe other game that I tried out was Golden Sun, which I had been wanting to try out for a while since it has gotten extremely high reviews from just about everyone. And once I started playing it, I immediately saw why. The characters had personality. They had emotions. They were funny. And I kept wanting to see what they would do next. Also, the battle system was easy to use, and quick to execute. It reminded me of the original Final Fantasy, as you cannot move your characters around the battlefield, and if one of your characters was set to attack an enemy who happens to die, your character goes into defense mode instead of just automatically attacking another target like they would in most other games. I know this can be annoying at times, but it also adds more strategy to the battles. There are some truly annoying, yet completely unnecessary quirks in the game, however. Holding down the B button, for instance, serves to make your character move faster while walking, and also servers to quickly close open dialog boxes. Thus you'll be holding the button down to walk faster, and all of a sudden you'll encounter an event which automatically pops up a dialog box, which then closes before you've had a chance to read it. Another annoying thing happens with the A button, which is used to talk to people, look at objects, and acts as a shortcut button to bring up your main menu. So when you're standing in front of something and want to look at it, often times your menu will come up instead because the object isn't something that can be looked at.

Holy crap! I've written five paragraphs already and we still haven't even made it to Illinois yet. We haven't even gotten to the airport! That's crazy! That's insane! That's just... so we arrived at my parents house at around 10:30 that night. We brought our stuff in and Christy headed back to Redding. Both my parents were sleeping, so we got something to drink, talked a little, and then went to bed. My mom had made up the computer room, which was my old room, for Joe, and my sister's old room for Treese and me. Although we had to get up at some ungodly hour the next morning, I really wasn't used to going to sleep that early, so played a little more Golden Sun while trying to force myself off to dreamland. Shhhhh... nighty-night, now... eyes closing... mind drifting off to BAM! It's 5:30! Time to get up! Urg... I hate mornings. We all got up, had a quick snack, put our bags in the car, and off we zoomed to the San Francisco airport.

It didn't seem like it took very long to get there, but that could have been because I was still groggy. We reached the airport with almost no trouble. My mom realized too late that we could have used the car pool lane to avoid paying bridge toll, and once she thought that she missed a turnoff when she hadn't, but nothing really major happened. When we arrived, she dropped us off and we headed in to check our bags and get our boarding passes. We decided to use those automated check-in computer terminals to avoid the line, but that didn't work out as nicely as it could have. We kept punching in our information, but it kept spitting back various errors. We finally just asked the lady behind the counter who was there for assistance, and she got us checked in. So we handed over our bags, and Treeses started distributing our boarding passes to us as we headed for the security check... except that within a few steps she realized that she was the only one who had been given a boarding pass. So back to the counter we went, where the lady promptly saw us and realized what happened. Okay, do we all have our boarding passes now? Yes? Yes... okay. Let's go.

I already knew what to expect at the security check, as Victor and I had just flown to E3 last month. So I took off my boots, and removed my belt, and surrendered my camera, and handed over my Game Boy, and gave them my bag, and let them try on my jacket, and then did a nice little shimmy though the metal detector. Treeses and Joe were both waiting for me by the time I made it to the other side and finally got dressed. In the Sacramento airport, I had to take off my shoes because they were steel-toe boots, but here they made everyone take off their shoes, no matter what kind they were... well, except for Treeses, 'cause she was just wearing her flip-flops. Once we reached our gate, we still had about 45 minutes left before they would begin boarding. So I pulled out my GBA (that's Game Boy Advance) and played some more Golden Sun, while Treeses and Joe talked... I think... actually, I don't know what they did, as I was really into my game. But to make the story more interesting, lets just say they talked... oh... I don't know... let's say they talked about giant mutant man-eating lobsters from space... with ray guns... yeah, that sounds good.

When it was time to get on the plane, we did. Woah, shocker, huh? Once everyone was in, they did their standard spiel about where the exits were (hm, you mean where it says EXIT in big red letters?), and what your supposed to if you crash (hm, you mean DIE?!), and all that good stuff. Then they also mentioned that American Airlines is the only airline that redesigned the coach section to provide more room for it's guests. Yeah... more room they say... hm... oh yeah, I see, they must mean vertically, because there is absolutely no way that those seats had any extra room between them. Anyway, it didn't take us too long to get in the air, and as always, the take off was the best part. I started playing video games shortly thereafter, while Treeses bought a two-dollar pair of headphones so she could listen to the in flight movie, which was Chicago (you know someone thought that was clever, showing Chicago on a flight to Chicago). Joe also watched the movie, but he brought his own headphones. When we were about an hour away from landing, I put away my Game Boy and just tried to rest. Treeses was doing the same thing, but neither of us really got to sleep.

I believe it was a little after two o'clock when we landed (keep in mind there's a two hour time difference). Treeses said she was glad that she didn't go see Chicago in the theater, because she really didn't like it. I was glad, too. We headed to the luggage pickup, and Joe and I waited there while Treeses went to get the rental car info. Our bags came, and we hopped on the Budget bus which dropped us off right at our car, which was an ugly-looking, white Ford Taurus. We threw our things in the trunk, jumped on in (the front of the car, that is, not the trunk), and took off. We were all hungry by this point, but check in time at the hotel was at three, so we wanted to do that first. Besides, it was only like a 20 minute drive to our hotel... technically. But who wants to be technical when your on vacation? I mean, you can do that anytime. So we spent the next two hours trying to find our hotel. Along the way, Treeses asked if anyone had any preference on where we should eat. Nobody spoke up, so I said "taco, taco, quesadilla" in a squeaky little voice with a Mexican accent while using my fist as a puppet like Eric Cartman did in an episode of South Park we just watched the other night. Treeses seemed frustrated and annoyed, so I did it to cheer her up more than anything else, and it worked. It made her laugh and put her in a good mood which lasted all the way to the hotel, which we finally did find by the way.

Our hotel was pretty nice. It had two bedrooms (each with it's own bathroom), a kitchen, a dining area, and a living area. There was a TV and VCR in the living area, and a TV in each of the bedrooms. There were also ports for internet access, but none of us had a laptop. We were all hungry, so we didn't hang around long. We went out to Taco Bell, then jammed over to Hollywood video to rent some flicks. Treeses instinctively started looking at the DVD section, and I had to remind her that we only had a VCR. We finally decided on Old School and Scarecrow. They had some deal going on where you get two movies, some popcorn, a drink, and some candy, so we did that. Treeses told me to pick out the candy for myself, so I did... and then she replaced it with Whoppers at the last minute. Okay... I'm not sure why because she doesn't even eat candy, but whatever. We got our junk and then headed over to some large and expensive liquor store where Joe picked up a few drinks. We then (finally, for the love of god, lets eat!) headed back to the hotel where we scarfed down our meal, never even bothering to put one of the movies in. We just turned on the TV and watched this show about the Hoover Dam on the Learning Channel. Treeses fell asleep during it, shortly after she finished eating. I didn't fall asleep until the show about subways came on.

It was dark before we awakened from our power nap, but Treeses was refreshed, and was longing for some "real food". So out we went, looking for this supermarket called Jewel Osco that the hotel lady told Joe about. After driving down the street one direction for way more than the supposed "two miles" and not finding it, we turned around and tried the other way. Still nothing. Treeses wanted to turn around, but Joe and I persuaded her to go just a little bit further, and it's a good thing we did 'cause we found it on the next block. We learned later that it wasn't actually the one we looking for, though. The one we were looking was two miles down the road where we went the first time, but it was in the back of a shopping center and couldn't be seen from the street. That fact wasn't mentioned in the directions. And beyond that, the sign announcing that there was a Jewel Osco in the shopping center was a non-lighted sign with red letters on a black background. But you know, that could make sense... if the store didn't stay open until 11 at night! Anyway, we went inside, picked up some TV dinners, and a twelve pack of Hawaiian Punch and Sunny Delight.

Both Treeses and Joe had their TV dinners when we got back to the hotel, but this time we put on Old School, starring Luke Wilson and Will Ferrell. It's basically about a bunch of middle-age guys who decide to start an fraternity, and then have to pass a bunch of tests when the fraternity becomes official and its students are threatened with expulsion from the college. It had a few really good laughs, and Will Ferrell is always good, but overall there really just isn't much to laugh at here. There are both verbal and physical comedy scenes throughout the movie, yet most of them just don't strike the funny bone, and you end up thinking about what could have been done to make it better instead of laughing. Anyway, after the movie we all went to bed. And after we did that, we went to sleep. And I'm not sure what happened next, but I assume we probably had some dreams, rolled over a few times, drooled on our pillows, and other such things that happen when your asleep.

Our Trip to Chicago (Day 2)

The next day we got up early (well, early for me) so we could get the free hotel breakfast. We went down to see what they had, which was scrambled eggs, sausage, english muffins, and juice. We all got some of everything, and ate it down there before taking off for Six Flags. The original plan was to go on Saturday, but after Victor and I saw how empty the park was on a weekday, I convinced Treeses to start our trip a day early. Once we got to the park, however, we all stared in awe at a parking lot filled with them-there newfangled motorized vehicles. Hmmm, something tells me that it's not going to be as empty as we had anticipated. At the toll gate, Treeses asked if we could use her California handicap pass here. We were told that we could, as long as it was issued by the state. Noooo... I just took out a piece of notebook paper, drew a handicap symbol on it, and issued it to myself... are you sure we can't just use that? Of course, that thought remained inside my head... as do most of my sarcastic comments that would make people want to cause me serious bodily harm. Anyway, we made our way to the handicap spots by driving the wrong way through a little one-way section marked "Do Not Enter" (hey, the spots were right on the other side and we didn't see a legit way around... of course, we really didn't look to hard, but hey, Treese is a professional).

So we finally got parked and made our way to the ticket booth. Joe was paying for all the tickets, and the lady asked if we had any coupons. We tried to get discounted tickets online, but we found out too late that they have to ship them to you via FedEx. And we had no coupons, so Joe had to pay full price... or would he? As he was preparing to pay, his keen eyes spotted a coupon not two feet away, laying on the ground next to the booth. With cat-like reflexes he swooped it up and presented it triumphantly to the booth-lady. Will this work? It sure will. Score! Once inside the park, we started walking to... well, that's what I asked, and when nobody knew, we stopped to look at the map. We decided to investigate the Fast Lane passes, but when we found out how much they were and that you have to buy four at a time, we decided against it. The first coaster we went on was called the Demon, which was fun. It had a loop, several corkscrews, at least one tunnel, and had a little waterfall nearby. Treeses was a bit nervous once she was on it, and when it started doing its thing, she held on with an iron grip while screaming what may have been profanity.

American Eagle The next coaster we decided to go on was called American Eagle, which is a racing coaster that stretches across the whole park. It's actually two separate coasters on two separate tracks that run side-by-side, except one has the cars facing forward and the other has them facing backwards. We decided to go on the forward running cars first. The wait wasn't too bad, and once we were all squeezed in and ready to go, they launched both sets of cars. We were ahead by a small margin as our cars were pulled up the steep incline. Even though it was overcast basically the whole day, the sun made the clouds so bright when looking straight up at them that I had to close my eyes. Really, I'm serious, it was not because I was scarred, it was just too bright... look, after we reached the top I didn't close my eyes at all for the rest of the ride, so you can think whatever you want. I don't care, because I know the truth. Oh, just shut up.

Once we got to the top of the 137 foot-high drop, and started plunging down the 55 degree decline, the cars that we were racing against all of a sudden became completely irrelevant. We soared over hill after hill after hill, getting great airtime on each and every one. As we reached the end of the straightaway, it felt like we were put inside of a centrifuge, with the cars spiraling downward until it finally released us onto the straightaway heading back. More hills followed, and although they were much smaller, it felt like we were going even faster and getting even more airtime. Treeses screamed louder than I ever heard her scream before, and on every single hill, while she held on to the bar in front of the car like it was her only link to survival. That alone made this great ride well worth it. Plus, it was over two minutes long, and felt like it! When I asked if they wanted to ride the backwards cars now, Joe responded favorably while Treeses instantly let out a dead-set "NO!" Sorry Honey, two against one, lets go!

Since we were facing backward as we were being pulled up the first hill, I didn't have to close my eyes at all this time. Treeses still screamed on every hill (with occasional swearing here and there), but this time I forced her to hold my hand. Still, on each and every drop her hand lusted for the security of the metal bar... which was just so cute! Even though going backwards was great fun, I think that I still prefer facing front. Oh yeah, and on both stations they had signs posted that tell you to make sure to keep your head firmly against the headrest at all times for your safety. They so lie. I tried that during the first ride, and my head felt like a baseball card stuck in the spokes of a bike that was going 66 mph over a bunch of dirt mounds. I didn't make that same mistake again.

Iron Wolf After that we wandered over to the Iron Wolf coaster, which is a stand-up coaster that felt very similar to the Riddler's Revenge that Victor and I rode at Magic Mountain. The wait was definitely longer than American Eagle, but it still wasn't too bad. Unfortunately, once we actually got on, Treese wasn't able to ride it. The harness fit and locked in okay, but the guy couldn't get the safety belt to fit. It was real close, and I'm sure he could have got it if he just pushed, but they're not allowed to do that. We found out later that even though they couldn't do it, we could have. But for this time, Joe and I had to ride without her, and that made it not nearly as fun as it probably would have been. I'm not really a big fan of the standing coaster anyway. I mean, I just spent all this time standing in line, and now I have to stand on the ride as well? What the hell? Now, if they would let you sit while waiting in line, then they might have something there. But until then, I'll just stick with rides that console my feet.

When that was over, we mozzied on over to check out the Batman coaster. They had a test seat at this one, so people could see if they fit on the ride before having to wait in line. We pretty much knew that there was no way Treeses was going to fit in that tiny little seat, but she tried anyway, just to make sure. It was as we thought, so we hiked on over to the new Superman coaster called Superman: Ultimate Flight. Along the way we came across some people dressed up in weird fantasy-like costumes. They asked if we wanted to play this virtual reality thing, which was a bunch of seats on a platform, with each seat having a pair of goggles and a hand-trigger attached by wires. A couple years ago when I was at Magic Mountain for E3, Victor convinced me to get a caricature portrait done of myself. So while the dude was drawing me, I was watching this same virtual reality game that we were now going to do. From what I saw previously, it looked really dumb. The kids playing it would all stomp their feet at the same time, then raise their arms and wiggle their fingers, and other such things like that. I had no desire to try it, but both Treese and Joe wanted to check it out, so I went along.

And let me tell you, this thing was crap! Virtual reality my ass! We all sat down and put on our goggles, and all they do is play some prerecorded "movie" in front of your eyes. It doesn't matter how you move your head, the angle of what's in your visor doesn't change because it's just playback of a two-dimensional, poorly animated cartoon drawn in a style that tries to look like video game graphics. And do you know how you're supposed to win in this game? Wiggle! And that's it! You score points by how much your body moves! Seriously, that's it. What you do has absolutely no effect whatsoever on what happens on your visor. And that little hand-trigger thing? You don't aim it, or time your shots, just click the button as fast as you can to earn points. This "game" was a complete and total ripoff, especially at five bucks a person. So if you ever run into these fools trying to get you to play their "virtual reality" game, just tell 'em they should go get a more honorable job... like in telemarketing... or spamming. And for all you telemarketers and spammers out there, that was sarcasm, and I still hate you all. Sorry to get your hopes up. Oh yeah, and Treeses won! Yeah baby, she knows how to move that body!

Superman: Ultimate Flight Okay, so back to Superman: Ultimate Flight. This ride also had a test seat out front, and thankfully Treeses was able to fit (with a little help from Joe). So we jumped in line, which was the longest in the park. It stretched all the way to the entrance of the ride. Of course, when we first entered the park, the line was overflowing past the entrance. So we just stood and stood, waiting for our turn. They had television monitors scattered around, but you couldn't really hear them, and there was so much glare that you could rarely see them. As the line slowly made its way forward, we eventually got to a point that had these signs posted along side us that told about different characters from the Superman comics. These would have been really cool to read... if only they had written the text in a font that was big enough to read! I mean, these signs were like four feet away from the line, but they were written like someone thought they were supposed to be four inches away. Well, the pictures were nice anyway.

When we finally got to our turn, Joe had to help Treeses get locked in. First you get strapped into a nicely designed belt-style harness, and then a more standard solid-style harness is locked into place over that. It was bit unnerving that the solid harness didn't have any safety belt attaching it to the seat like Iron Wolf did... at least until you realized that the sold harness itself was the safety catch. The belt harness that was put on first is so comfortable and unobtrusive that you actually forget its there. Once we were locked in, and the seats were pulled back 90 degrees so that we were all facing the ground, I heard Treeses start to say things like "What the hell did I get myself into?!" and "What is wrong with me?!". The actual screaming didn't begin until the ride was in motion. The face-down Superman flying position was a really cool experience, especially when we went though the loop, on the outside. The other twists and drops were fun, but not spectacular. Still, the sensation of openness and speed you get from that position, along with the extremely smooth ride of the cars make this a ride worth... uh... riding.

A quick rest on a bench helped to relieve our aching feet after that long wait in line. Treeses and Joe were both thirsty, so we made our way back to the car, getting our hand stamped on the way out with some kind of invisible ink that glows when illuminated with a certain light. While resting, we decided that we'd go see the IMAX show next, and then the Space Shuttle Experience... both of which you got to sit down for. So once rested, we scurried back into the park and over to the IMAX theater. The wait to get in and sit down was only a few minutes, but while waiting we saw the biggest ants that we had ever seen. Seriously, I actually thought it was a cricket at first. Huge! Anyway, we got inside fairly quickly and plopped down in our seats... which we all then realized were not padded! You could hear all three of us going "Owww" at the same time. The movie they were showing was about skydiving, parachuting (how do you have skydiving without parachuting anyway?), and cliff jumping. It was lame. Especially the skydiving, as there was no point of reference. The camera dude was falling at the same speed as the skydivers, so for all we knew they could have been two feet off the ground with a fan blowing wind up their butts.

Treeses actually started to doze off by the time it was over, and I couldn't blame her. We promptly exited and scurried over to the building next door, which was the Space Shuttle experience. This had a little longer wait, but it was only like 10-15 minutes. Now, normally I like these kind of rides where your seat moves according to what's happening on the giant screen in front of you, but... well... when the takeoff began, the seats started shaking and sound effects started booming, and the screen started showing... nothing! Absolutely nothing! Stupid! You're so stupid! Okay, okay, calm down. So once we were "in space", they turn on the screen. Apparently we're supposed to be riding in some kind of device that raises out from the space shuttle's cargo bay so that we can see what's going on. Right...not exactly breaking the coolness barrier, but whatever. So we skim along the moon, and pretend like we're about to land when the shuttle gets called out to shoot some asteroids (right...). Oh, and lucky us, we get to see everything because of a "malfunction" that won't put us back inside the space shuttle. Okay, okay, we win, everybody's saved, lets just get the hell off this stupid ride.

We were all tired and hungry, and regardless of those last two rides, it had still been a fun day. So back to the hotel we went. For dinner, Joe suggested this restaurant he saw at the mall called the Rainforest, so we hoped in the car and skimmed over there. And of course when we pulled into the mall, we couldn't just park. Oh no... we had to drive completely around the entire mall first... and then park. Inside the restaurant, there were plastic plants everywhere, covering the walls and ceiling, There also a lot of giant fish tanks filled with various kinds of fish, although none of them seemed very large. There were also a few animatronics scattered around. I could only see one, a gorilla, from where we were sitting, but Joe said he saw others when he went to the restroom. Our table was right next to an area of water that had little jets underneath to make it bubble, and on the space behind the water was a bunch of big plastic dolphins. Yes, dolphins. I don't know, so don't ask. We saw them in other store windows around town, so maybe there was a sale or something. Our food took a while to arrive, so we just talked and took a few pictures while we were waiting. Also, they would dim the lights every so often and play sound effects to emulate a thunderstorm. It was kind of cool, and only lasted for like 15-20 seconds at a time. Any longer than that and it would have been annoying. We jetted right back to the hotel after dinner, and went straight to bed, as we had to get up quite early the next morning for Nina's graduation.

Our Trip to Chicago (Day 3)

Homer SimpsonIt is now four forty-five in the AM and time to get moving! Let's go! It was the morning of the whole reason why we took this trip, and it was time to get our butts over there. We did a practice run the night before so we wouldn't get lost (you know, like we've done every single time we've tried getting anywhere since coming to this state). I don't remember much of the drive (which at this point, I'm sure you're glad to hear). We parked, went though their security check point, waited in some lobby for a few minutes until a bus showed up, which then herded us over to some kind of auditorium. There, we proceeded to sit on these nice, comfortable, hard, backless bleachers for several hours while waiting for the ceremony to begin. While waiting, Treeses and Joe at one point looked over the documentation for the graduation... and realized that 6:30 was actually the earliest we were allowed to be here, and that we could have waited another couple hours. D'oh!

The ceremony was nice, and didn't last too long. I'd say probably about an hour. There was some marching with flags, some gun twirling, some marching without flags, some speeches, and of course there were all the graduates standing in formation. That was really neat looking. When they were finally dismissed, we all rushed down to find Nina. Joe found her first, and we all got big hugs. She was so excited, but before we left we took some pictures with her and some of her friends. When we were ready to go, we found out that the graduates weren't allowed to take the bus back. Oh, that sucks... well, we'll meet ya there. But she had to go back to her area and get her purse anyway, so that was fine. Once she returned to the lobby where we were waiting, we all piled into the car and aimed straight for the hotel. Along the way, Nina told us all about her experiences at boot camp, talking extremely rapidly and using all sorts of weird abbreviations that made no kind of sense.

We rested at the hotel for a bit, with Nina still telling stories, before we went out again, this time to Wal-Mart. Once we got there, however, Nina realized that she forgot to bring her cover (that means 'hat' in Navy lingo). This sucked, because she's supposed to be in complete uniform everywhere she goes, and they told her that there were eyes everywhere, always watching... and thus she wouldn't get out of the car, so we had to drive all the way back to the hotel. The streets were fairly crowded, so instead of going back to Wal-Mart, we just went to a closer store. For dinner, we visited the Cheesecake Factory, which was delicious. My god, they make the best raspberry lemonade I have ever tasted. And for desert, I asked for a strawberry sundae, which they gladly made even though it was not on the menu. That, too, was delicious. Throughout the entire dinner, Nina was completely covered in napkins, as she still had on her bright white uniform that she couldn't get dirty.

After dinner, we talked about what we were going to do the next day, and decided that we'd try making our way into Chicago city. But for right now, we had to get Nina back to the base before her 9:00 curfew. We accomplished the mission without too much trouble, and turned on the other movie we had rented, Scarecrow, once we got back to the hotel. Treeses fell asleep not ten minutes into it. She was the lucky one. That movie was awful. It was about a timid high school student (who looked to be in his 30s) who got killed and came back to life as a gymnastic scarecrow to kill people. Now, as cool as that sounds, it just wasn't. The deaths weren't very creative, nor were the one-liners, nor were the camera shots... oh, lets see... then there was the poor editing, the lack of a hero or anyone else to root for, and an ending that made very little sense. Very disappointing.

Our Trip to Chicago (Day 4)

The next morning we went to pick up Nina, but just as we were a couple blocks away from the base, she called Joe's cell phone and told us that she was at the mall with a friend. Apparently they started walking there earlier, but didn't realize how far away it was until someone offered them a ride and actually drove them most of the way there. And their plan to take the shuttle back to the base failed when it never showed up. So we swung by there and picked them up, and then dropped her friend back at the base because he had duty at 11:45 (and it was about 12:10 when we got him there). Right after that, we took off toward Chicago. We were looking into taking the train instead of driving, but the timing of it didn't look very good. We would have had like three hours to spend in the city, or something like that. And the trains apparently didn't run very often, so we decided just to drive. I don't remember most of drive there, although I do remember seeing the Chicago skyline, and that Nina took a quick power nap for about 20 minutes... oh yeah, and our car almost got run over by a bus... mmmm... I think that's about it.

We found a place to park in an underground garage that you access from a ramp leading down from the middle of the street. Again, Treeses had her handicap pass so we got a good spot. We walked around a little, eventually going into The Shops at North Bridge, which is a huge shopping center. There we found a Lego store, which was fun to look around in. They had a Lego replica of Chicago city, with a Lego camera crew filming a Lego Godzilla crushing the Lego city. From a window in the mall, we spotted a free trolley that went to the Navy pier, so we elevator-ed our butts downstairs and scooted over to wait for it. About 20 minutes later it arrived... and it was full... but not full enough! We all crammed into the now standing-room-only vehicle and off it sped. Luckily, some people got off on one of the next stops, so we got to sit down. By the time we reached the last few stops before the pier, we were packed in there like sardines and the driver couldn't allow anyone else to get on. Seriously, it must have looked like a clown car when we eventually spilled out.

Navy Pier At the pier, we really didn't do anything except walk to the end of it. I pointed out the giant ferris wheel, but Treeses would have none of that. We took some pictures, and then rested when we got to the end of the pier... or at least as far to the end as we were willing to go. The cool thing is we didn't even have to walk back, as there was a trolley stop nearby. This time, we took a different free trolley which would bring us right above our parking garage. Unfortunately, this trolley was also standing room only. Again, Treeses got to sit down shortly after when some people got off, but the rest of us had to stand the whole way. We loaded up in the car and took off for the base... although once we were on the freeway and part of the way there, we saw something very, very odd... the Chicago skyline. What the hell?! We all looked at each other trying to figure out how this was possible. None of us remembered taking any turns... yet there we were, driving toward the city we had just been driving away from. Spooky. So we got off the freeway and turned around... and continued to look over our shoulders just to make sure the skyline stayed where it was supposed to.

When we got back to town, we stopped for dinner at a Red Lobster, as Nina had expressed an interest in it earlier on. Their raspberry lemonade was quite disappointing after experiencing the awesomeness of the Cheesecake Factory's. Anyway, after dinner we took Nina back to the base for the last time. We returned to the hotel, and jumped into the hot tub for about 20 minutes. Treeses had been wanting to do that every since we arrived, but kept putting it off since it was always late when we got back and it was outdoors. Joe decided to go back to the city and explore a little more, so he took the train and was out for a while... actually, I don't know when he came back, as he was still out when we went to bed.

Our Trip to Chicago (Day 5)

The next morning, after the complementary breakfast, we ate and drank everything we could in the fridge, then packed everything in the car and took off for the airport. This time we didn't have too much trouble getting our boarding passes using the automated machine. The flight back was uneventful, and I don't even remember what the in-flight movie was... something that I never heard of before. There were a bunch of noisy kids, but they didn't bother me too much. I played Golden Sun most of the way. When we landed, we got a hold of Christy to see where she was. She said that traffic was moving very slow, and that she hadn't even reached Sacramento yet. Well, she wasn't really even supposed to reach Sacramento, but we took that to mean she hasn't even gotten to the San Francisco/Sacramento turn-off yet. So we called my mom to see if she could pick us up, which she could. But she mentioned that she was starting to get a migraine, so we called her back and said we could take the BART, then she wouldn't have to drive so far. That... was a mistake...

While we were waiting for the bus to take us to the BART station, Christy called to say she was now in Vallejo. What the hell?! Apparently she wasn't as far away as we were led to believe. So we called my parents house, but my dad told us that my mom had already left and that she didn't have her cell phone on. So we told Christy our plan, and that she should wait at my parents house. When we reached the station, we had a little trouble figuring out how to work the ticket machine. It was $3.50 per ticket, but our first attempt yielded one $11.00 ticket. After we finally managed to get our tickets, we then had a bit of trouble figuring out which train to get on. The map had the routes marked in different colors, but the train we saw sitting in the station was marked as a color that wasn't supposed to be at this station. We found out later that the colors on the cars don't mean squat. In fact, one train will have several cars, each marked as different color. Luckily, as we were standing dumbfounded in front of one of the maps, some good samaritan asked where we were trying to get to, and then told us exactly what we needed to do to get there.

We followed his instructions, and successfully made it to the BART station where my mom was waiting. Of course, she had been waiting there for like an hour, and it actually would have been a lot faster for her to just pick us up from the airport, but hey, it was just another adventure. And amazingly, her headache had went away completely. So we made it back to my parents' house, where we hung out for a little bit. I showed my dad how to hook the TiVo to the phone line so that the computer could still connect through the DSL. Oh, and that was Father's Day, so I wished him a happy father's day. I also tried to hook up the DVD player I got him, but his TV didn't have the right audio/video connections. Damn. Anyway, it was already getting late, so we took off for home sweet home, stopping once for gas. We all wanted to eat, too, but Treeses didn't want to stop for that long until we got back to Redding. When we finally made it, we make a quick stop at Denny's for a bite to eat, and then back to our humble abode, where we watched a little television and fell asleep shortly thereafter.

So that was our trip. I hope it didn't bore you too mu... uh... hello? Helllloooo? Yoo-hoo... WAKE UP! Yeah, sorry about that. I'm sure that you weren't expecting a novel when you started this. I just tend to get carried away sometimes. Do you forgive me? Hmmm? Pwetty-pwease? Wif sugar on top? Hmmmm? Well screw you then! Go away! I'll kill you all! Oh, who am I kidding. I'm way to lazy to kill you all. But maybe just one or two....

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