At The National Apple Harvest Festival

For many years, one of our family traditions has been the National Apple Harvest Festival, held every year on the first two full weekends in October in Arendtsville, Pennsylvania. It’s a great time to celebrate the arrival of autumn in a beautiful setting, surrounded by low mountains and rolling apple orchards.

Driving up from Glen Burnie, Maryland, the trip takes about two hours, which is made better by the fact that we pass through Gettysburg, which is always a thrill for me, even when viewed through a car window at forty miles per hour. Knowing that I’m driving where armies tread, and imagining what the exhausted troops saw on their way to battle never gets old.

Just north of Gettysburg, a landmark that tells us we’re getting close is the National Apple Museum. This is where, on a family camping excursion in 1999, we first became of aware of the Festival. The museum is interesting, if you’re a fan of old grist or cider mills (which I am) because there are demonstrations of how apple sauce was made for centuries, plus lots of old, rustic tools. There was also a very old movie about the modern process, and free apple juice (of course). There’s a little gift shop as well.

Close to the festival site, there are plenty of signs and people directing traffic to the parking area, which is actually just two large fields adapted for vehicles. Wolf Field is closer, for the early arrivals, and McDannell Field is a bit farther away. On Saturday, the threatening weather held down the crowds, so we ended up at Wolf Field.

There are portable toilets near the staging area for the school buses that carry visitors to the Festival, which is good, because after a two hour drive this is a valuable resource. Once the bus is full, it sets off on a winding, sometime bumpy road to the festival.

Upon arrival, there is an admission fee: $9 for adults, $8 for seniors (60+) and children under 12 free. Once inside, everyone gets a program and a hand stamp, and then you’re free to wander wherever your heart leads. Here are some of the sights and sounds of the festival, as seen by me on Saturday.

There’s an area where real apples are turned into real applesauce which is then sold to passersby. It’s fascinating to watch the process, which somehow involves a hundred year-old steam engine.

Something else that involves a steam engine is shingle making, which is also fun to watch. Every year we get souvenir shingle, which has the year burned in, and sometimes that year’s edition number. This is the 47th year of the NAHF.

There’s plenty of live music at the NAHF. This video is of a band called Mason Vixon:

These guys carve statues from trees:

There are plenty of attractions for youngsters, such as this magician:

A petting zoo:

Hay rides through apple orchards are conducted, and there’s a play area where little ones can burn off the sugar high they just got from that candy apple:

They can also join in with the accordion man and his kiddie band:

And there’s also a Christian-themed puppet show, called Barb & Friends, which always reminded me of “Manger Babies” from King of the Hill. Here, Barb & Friends have some cats singing “Silent Night”:

If there’s any defining characteristic of the NAHF, though, it’s crafters and food vendors. A lot of the items are really nice, and it would be easy to drop a few hundred dollars in an afternoon. This is just a tiny sample:

These paintings on slate (I think it’s slate) are really awesome, and there were at least a dozen I would have loved to have, but they’re priced way outside my budget:

These hats were everywhere Saturday, and with the weather suddenly cold, they were flying out of the tents. Sarah pried a Smurf hat out of her father.

To escape the cold breeze, we spent a lot of time in the numerous shed barns, which were also filled with vendors.

I saw this in one shed, and almost bought it, because I love How The Grinch Stole Christmas:

No trip to the Apple Harvest Festival is complete for us with a major stocking-up of apple bread and apple cookies. Don’t wait until the last day, though, or you’ll miss out.

If the smell of apple bread makes you hungry, there’s lots to eat at the NAHF. Some of the lines, though can be quite long, such as for pit beef, or even kettle korn:

There was no line on this frigid day, however, at the ice cream stand:

To save time and money, and to get a chance to sit down inside, we always eat the chicken dinner, which is reasonably priced and quickly served in a place that usually has plenty of available seating:

For those more cultured than we, you could attend the wine tasting, and follow that up with a visit to the Apple Auditorium, where a performance by Hanover Children’s Ballet Theatre & Company was underway. I’m not sure, but I think they were singing about their love for the Greek god, Zeus. Very confusing.

By this time, you may need a restroom break, and you’ll be pleased to know that there are plenty of first-class outdoor facilities:

If you’re into classic vehicles, there are plenty of those, too, along with vintage tractors.

We spent about three hours at the Festival Saturday, and then the threatened rain started in earnest, so we made a bee-line to the bus-line.

At the parking fields, there are tables set up to sell apples, pumpkins and cider to take home. We always load up, because Laurie enjoys baking apple dishes, and this, too, has become an autumn family tradition.

Just outside the parking field, we stopped at a roadside stand and got a couple of apple pies, apple wine and hard cider. That should hold us for a few days, anyway.

And then, it was into the car for the long ride home. Tired, cold and a little wet, but satisfied with another successful trip to the Apple Harvest Festival behind us, I soon dozed off in the passenger seat, leaving the more alert Laurie to get us home safely.

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Ma And Pa Kettle Visit Gomorrah (or Our Weekend in Atlantic City)

This past weekend, as a birthday present for my wife Laurie, we spent the weekend in Atlantic City. I’m not much of a gambler, mainly because my competitive nature makes repeated losing difficult to endure, but Laurie enjoys it (the games, not losing), and since it was her birthday, off we went. (Bear in mind that my birthday trips take us to battlefields and historic sites, so I guess it all evens out in the end.)

The first part of the adventure was the drive up on Friday morning. All week we had heard that we would likely be driving straight into a massive blizzard; we had even considered renting an SUV to make the trip. Instead, basing my decisions on forecast maps, I decided to stay with our Nissan Rogue, but to leave 95N just after Wilmington, taking 40E across southern New Jersey. My hope was to skirt the heavier snowfall by staying south of Philadelphia.

Luckily, the storm underperformed and the drive was uneventful. By 1PM, we were in Atlantic City, and by 1:30 we were in our room on the 16th floor of the Chelsea Hotel, which was conveniently located next door to the Tropicana. We may have slept at the Chelsea, but we lived at the Tropicana.

The Tropicana is part Las Vegas, part Mall of America. The main floor has thousands of slot machines (mainly video), gaming tables, restaurants and small bars. Branching off of the gambling area, it has a small mall called The Quarter, and a number of nice restaurants, sports bars and rooms for live shows. One restaurant, “Red Square,” sported a 15-foot tall statue of Lenin by its front door.

The Trop also has its own IMAX theatre, which was showing Avatar while we were there (no thanks).

The casino, where we spent most of our time, is a cacophony of sounds and lights. There’s pop/rock music playing from the speakers, the voices of dealers, waitresses and gamblers, plus the din of a million bells, horns, recorded voices, and digital melodies. Every machine and cluster of machines comes with its own light show, like little Christmas trees on amphetamines.

And then there are the people. When I was growing up, what I knew of casinos I learned from James Bond movies, where tuxedoed men and fashionable women played expensive games, and winners and losers each accepted their fates with understated emotions. Notice: This image is nothing like the casino I was in.

At the Tropicana, from what I could tell, there were mostly middle class people from all walks of life, some old, but many young; some well dressed, but just as often not. It was a predominately caucasian crowd, but not exclusively so.

There are two kinds of people at the casino: those who are there for the entertainment, and there are those who are there to make money. It’s easy to tell who’s who by the games that they play. The serious gamblers play “the tables.” These are games of chance such as roulette, blackjack, poker and craps; minimum bets range upwards from $15 per play. We pretended to be serious gamblers for a few minutes on Saturday. Laurie was alone, holding her own betting at a $15 roulette table. Being the only player at the table allowed her to live the fantasy for a few minutes, until other players soon crowded around and began placing bets that put hers to shame, causing us to slink away from the table, back to the safety of our 5¢ video slots. That’s another key to the “high rollers.” They prefer the real slot machines that play for $1 or more and forsake cute animation; the risk/reward is higher on these and there’s no entertainment value to offset the ugly reality of losing. We mostly stayed away from these.

Being the lightweights that we are, we were attracted to glitzy video slots with familiar themes, such as the following:

Indiana Jones (Laurie did OK, but I lost $35)

The Wizard of Oz (I did really well on this one; Laurie not so much) In this image, a "bonus" has been hit, and a flying monkey has appeared on the screen to change certain symbols to "wilds." If you're unsure, this is usually a good thing.

The Wizard of Oz, again. Here, a "bonus" has triggered an onscreen tornado.

Remember "The Match Game" from the 1970s with Gene Rayburn? Well, now this classic piece of television history is immortalized as a slot machine. By the way, "Vicki" is Vicki Lawrence, one of the regulars on the show.

"Wheel of Fortune" comes complete with voiceovers from Pat Sajak and Vanna White. If you hit the "bonus," the big wheel spins and you get the number of "credits" that stops in front of you.

Playing "I Dream Of Jeannie"made me feel like a kid again, watching reruns on Channel 45. Except my parents' old console TV never took $17 dollars from me in 12 minutes. Not that I can remember, anyway.

The "Happy Days" block was almost always filled. We finally got two open seats, but the Fonz just took our money like everybody else.

I loved this machine. When you hit the "bonus," a stick-figure, with Dino's head perched atop, would sing the song "Go Go Go Go" for as long as your bonus held out.

If you want to hear Dean Martin sing “Go Go Go Go” like I did at Atlantic City, click here.

On Saturday night, we witnessed a scene straight out of “Jersey Shore.” On the ground floor of the Tropicana, there are a number of sports bars (and slots, of course). From what we could gather, a group of young men in tight tee shirts had gotten into a fight over one of the young ladies in their group. The ladies were all uniformly dressed in tight miniskirts with heels so high that they could barely walk without falling. We missed the fight, but got to see the twenty minutes of expletive-laden shouting and pointing as security guards herded the knots of combatants toward the exit.

We experienced another eye-opener on Sunday morning. As we were walking across the street to the Trop, we saw a tall young lady dressed in knee high leather boots, fish net stockings and a leather jacket walking ahead of us with a much shorter man. The man was dressed in rumpled, baggy pants and had his gray hoodie pulled over his head, totally hiding his face. The two walked together without acknowledging the other. Laurie and my curiosity was piqued as we tried to figure out this odd couple. As they entered the casino, they drifted apart, still not talking, while keeping the same deliberate pace toward the hotel elevators. That was when we figured it out: what we had been seeing was a “John” escorting his prostitute through the casino toward the elevators (and presumably up to his room). We were amazed; it was like watching reality television come to life, right in front of us.

On that Sunday morning, we decided to give the nice casino folks a little more of our money before leaving, and because it was relatively empty at the machines, we became emboldened and sat at the “big boy” slot machines. These machines even had pull-arms. We were both making conservative bets, but then Laurie decided to throw caution to the wind, hitting the “Max Bet” button, which bets 180 nickels on a single spin. I watched in horror as she lost her $9 in 2.3 seconds. We looked at each other for a moment, and then resumed our conservative play – except that Laurie forgot that since her last bet was $9, that had become her default bet. Thus, when she reflexively hit the “Repeat The Bet” button, she saw another 180 credits go away. Before she realized what had happened, though, a New Jersey miracle occurred. Laurie hit her big score – $100 (as it paid out, we had no idea how much she had won; we just hoped it would never stop. But this was true all weekend. The rules for winning at slots are so confusing that it’s almost impossible to know how much you’ve won, you just have to trust the machine. I gave up trying early on, but Laurie always dutifully tried to figure it out, in vain.) We laughed as the dinging of the credit counter rolled on and on – it took about ten minutes to stop. Finally, we felt like winners. And that was when I understood slot machines.

Slot machines take all of your money, and then slowly give part of your money back, all the while making a big show of the partial return of funds. Because you’re getting something and the machine’s making such a fuss over it, you feel like you’ve accomplished something, when in fact, the machine still has most of your money. Even after our “big score,” we were down about $500 to the machines. When I brought up unpleasant details such as this, Laurie gently reminded me that we were in Atlantic City to have fun, not to save our retirement. Yes, we had lost money, she would say comfortingly, but we had fun doing it. Yes, of course, I would say, that’s what’s important – but I’m not a very gracious loser, and she knows this, so we tended not to speak of the money so much.

After we had checked out of our hotel on Sunday, we grabbed lunch at White House Subs, a historic landmark in a rather tough neighborhood near the Convention Center. We had been told that we “had to eat there before we left,” and since I appreciate local history and culture (if you could call it that), we parked uncomfortably on the street and walked a block or two to the corner of Arctic & Mississippi (nice dichotomy, eh?), where we saw a line stretching out into the street. Groaning, we took our place at the end, but then a few minutes later, another New Jersey miracle! The counter lady came outside and said that they had two seats at the counter; we jumped at the opportunity and were soon seated amidst the wall-to-wall crush.

As we waited to eat, we took in the “ambiance.” The old, never-remodeled walls were covered with photographs and signed portraits of all the celebrities who had eaten there, from Sinatra to Seinfeld to Donny & Marie. Near us, behind the counter, there was a framed montage of photos showing the Beatles holding a six-foot submarine sandwich; it was later explained to us that the Fab Four had played the Atlantic City Convention Center in 1964, and the owners had sent over the sub and a cameraman – smart guys.

While we were waiting for our food, we watched one guy use a $20 bribe to cut in front of everyone else; no one seemed to mind.

We were served a half sub and a can of soda each. Laurie said that her Philly Cheesesteak was very good; I thought my steak sub (with nothing but hots) was OK, but just that. After we had finished, I bought a souvenir tee-shirt for $10 and we headed home, saturated with local charm and culture.

WE MEET THE FAB FAUX

On Saturday night, we saw a performance by the Beatles tribute act “Yesterday.” They have their own little theatre inside the Tropicana called The Liverpool Club, which is decked out on the outside with huge photos of the Beatles (while the Beatles first British LP, “Please Please Me” plays in a continuous loop in the hall). Inside, it has a Cavern Club look and feel. The theatre is intimate, seating no more than a hundred, and Laurie and I got in early enough to grab center seats in the third row, about ten feet from the stage. It was a full house, so we felt lucky, and there was a nice mix of young and let’s say…older.

As I inspected the stage, I was impressed by the authenticity of the instruments and the equipment, right down to the tiny Vox amplifiers the Beatles had to contend with early in their career. One thing I don’t understand is why “Ringo’s” drum set was behind a plexiglas half-wall. Television monitors on the side walls played old videos of Gerry and the Pacemakers and The Dave Clark Five while we waited for the show to start. At the appointed time, an Ed Sullivan impersonator appeared on the monitor and announced the act.

The cast is Bobby Potter on drums (as Ringo Starr), Jim Lett on lead guitar (George Harrison), Don Bellezzo on rhythm guitar (John Lennon) and Paul Sacco on bass (Paul McCartney).

We had seen the players earlier that evening, as they gave an interview in The Quarter on “Trop Radio,” and the first thing we noticed was that, having been together since 1986, they were easily in their fifties, which was a bit disillusioning. (Fortunately, they have nice wigs and makeup to give the proper look; although Jim Lett’s hair appeared to be his own.) What struck me as I watched from ten feet away was that, had the Beatles all survived, and not been as mythically successful, so that they were forced to relive their act every night in let’s say, Las Vegas, and replaced Ringo with Seymore Skinner from the Simpsons, this is what it probably would have looked like. (Don’t discount Seymore Skinner: remember his experience as a member of the Grammy Award winning vocal group the Be Sharps.) I suddenly became very appreciative of the fact that the Beatles quit in 1969 while they were still on top, choosing to go their separate ways rather than risk sullying perfection.

They were all musically very good (watching Lett play made me even more appreciative of George Harrison). Vocally, Sacco (Paul) and Potter (Ringo) were pretty good, Lett (George) was OK and Bellezzo (John) was, well, not as good. Bellezzo makes the common John-error. (I’ve seen four different Beatles tribute acts: Beatlemania [twice], 1964, Rain, and now, Yesterday, so I know of what I speak.) John sang with a somewhat nasally voice, and many Lennon impersonators so focus in on this that they become shrill and off-key. Bellezzo was, at times, so nasally as to be difficult to listen to, with lyrics that were impossible to hear clearly. He just about completely wrecked “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” At other times, depending on the song, it was less noticeable. Potter surprised me by doing a very good Ringo imitation on “Matchbox,” although, honestly, Ringo’s lack of range makes him a less challenging task.

The three guitarists were excellent in imitating the mannerisms of the Beatles during the two sets of the show: the first set was circa 1964 and the second was Shea Stadium in 1965. Laurie and I both noticed that the band’s Wells Fargo badges were misplaced, but this is fairly trivial. As a last critique, Sacco (Paul) may have been pushing Paul’s onstage playfulness into caricature at times, but the audience seemed to like the interplay. During the show, the side monitors played videos of the actual Beatles, which I found distracting, and considering the age difference between the then-youthful Beatles and the now-old Yesterday, a persistent and sad reminder that these were definitely not the Beatles.

After the show, and two encore songs, the players appeared in the lobby to sign autographs and to help sell the few pieces of merchandise they had for sale. I bought a black tee-shirt for $20, which they cheerfully signed. Potter (Ringo) put a lot of work into his autograph, which, had there been a crush, would’ve actually become awkward.

Because I’m such a fan, and because I know so much about the Beatles, it’s hard to watch a tribute band without seeing the flaws. Still, it was a good show (especially considering that all seats were $25), and I enjoyed it.

As a bonus, while we were there, we lost no money to the machines. (As far as I know.)

As A Teenager in Iceland (While The Orioles Win The Series)

The flag of Iceland, in the Flag Court at the Commons

I’ve only been to one foreign country in my entire life, and I had to miss watching the Orioles win the World Series to get there, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

In the summer of 1983, I was a nineteen-year old working in passenger service for Butler Aviation (handled today by Signature Flight Support) at BWI Airport. I was one of perhaps a dozen pax service reps, with a number of kids my age, and we acted as the on-site crew for charter flights and airlines with limited service, such as Air Jamaica and Icelandair. It was a pretty good group, mixing youth with experience and we were good at what we did. Generally, we had a great time, mixing in laughter with the work, meeting interesting people from around the world, in the easy days before international airports were high security facilities.

A lot of my most interesting memories are from this time in my life. Probably the best is when the wonderful folks at Icelandair decided to send a few of us (myself, Lisa Merkey and Debbie Hutton) to Iceland for the weekend, all expenses paid. We were informed late that summer, and since none of us had passports, we had to hustle down to an office in Washington to get them. If I remember correctly, it didn’t seem like much of a hassle at the time (except for going into Washington). We were scheduled to leave on Friday, October 14, providing our flight had open seats (being freebies, they wouldn’t let us be the reason seats weren’t sold, but this is standard airline procedure, and we understood).

As the date of departure approached, the Orioles advanced through the playoffs. My future wife and I saw games 1 & 2 of the American League Championship Series at Memorial Stadium. The Birds lost Game 1, but came back to take Game 2. It suddenly occurred to me that I might be in Iceland as the Orioles played for a championship; I was uneasy at this, but never once considered passing up the chance of a lifetime to watch baseball. What if I turned this opportunity down and they lost?

When the appointed day arrived, we arrived at the airport, luggage in tow, to work the flight that would eventually take us across the ocean. We knew from the passenger list that we would probably make the flight, unless people showed up at the last minute wanting a ticket (you could do that back then). Iceland in the fall is not a popular tourist attraction, so we felt pretty confident. (Why did people go to Iceland at all? Icelandair offered inexpensive continuing service to Luxembourg, in the middle of Europe, as long as you didn’t mind a stop in “Ísland.” At the time there was little service to Europe from the area, so this was a popular option.)

That night was also the third game of the World Series, which the Orioles won 3-2,  putting them up in the series 2-1 over the Phillies. I was a huge O’s fan, and now it seemed entirely possible that they could win it all before I got back home to see it. It was dangerous to think this way, but I was pulling for one Philadelphia win, so that the series would return to Baltimore.

The flight left late at night, and when we got on, because we were left to open seating, the three of us were scattered throughout the 707. On the bright side, however, we were given a stack of free alcohol coupons! (See the bottom right corner of the photo above.) I was feeling very grownup and worldly, so I used mine on Grand Marnier, which helped me doze off.

I woke up in the wee small hours of the morning, and looked out of the window at a vast unbroken whiteness. This was Greenland. I was too excited to return to sleep. Just before the sun rose, I snapped this photo:

A few hours later, it was Saturday morning. The plane touched down at Keflavik Airport, and the pilot announced that the temperature outside was 43°. I was shocked; I was in Iceland and that was no different than Baltimore in December. What he didn’t tell us was that the winds were blowing at about 20 miles per hour, and they cut right through you. There was no jetway, just roll up stairs on the tarmac, so the frigid air punched me in the face as soon as I stepped out of the plane.

After getting our bags, we took a van to the Hotel Loftleiðir, which wasn’t plush, but that didn’t matter, because we were in Iceland.

The view from the hotel was amazing. The countryside appeared nearly flat, except for the beautiful ice-covered mountains visible from my window. Here’s a picture I took:

We didn’t have much time, so that afternoon we went out to see the town of Reykjavik. Reykjavik is Iceland’s capital and its largest city, but of course, this is relative. To us it seemed like a quaint, small town. It also seemed as if every business was closed. (We later found out that closing for the weekend was the norm.) We walked around the small streets and took in the chilly, windy atmosphere. Soon we found ourselves at the water’s edge, where I snapped this photo:

We were hungry, and finally found what appeared to us to be a small delicatessen that was open; the shop specialized in salads and fish. I ordered a fish sandwich, and tried to tell the young lady who took my order that I didn’t want lettuce. Having left my Ensk-islensk Vasaordabok (English-Icelandic Dictionary) in my hotel room, I couldn’t come up with the word. (Icelandic is the language of the original Viking explorers, almost perfectly preserved today.The only Icelandic word I remember today is þakka þér fyrir, which sounds like “thakka thair feerer” and means “thank you very much.”) As it turned out the word was salat. Salat/salad. I felt stupid.

Continuing our walk around town, we were struck by the lack of trees, shrubs and animals, which no doubt are made rare by the biting cold. Here are some pictures I snapped as we walked:

After a time, we saw this large tower on the top of a slight rise that looked like a promising tourist attraction, so we made our way to it:

As it turns out, this is a church with a statue of Leif Erikson in front of it. The statue was a gift from the United States in 1930:

The church was unlocked, and we climbed to the open windows at the top (stronger, even colder winds up there), from where I took this photo:

At this point we were frozen solid, and since nighttime, with its promise of even more frigid weather, was closing in quickly, we decided to head back. With some difficulty we hailed one of the few taxis, which returned us to the hotel. This was another strange experience. As the cab idled in front of the hotel, and we tried to figure out how much kronur we owed, the meter kept running, changing the total. Kronur is worth a lot less than dollars, so every time we looked up, the number seemed outrageously higher. Eventually we threw a bunch of Icelandic money at him and dashed out of the cab. We knew we had probably overpaid, and that we had probably been taken advantage of, but we were foreigners, and teenagers at that. What could we do?

When I got back to my small, sparse hotel room, I discovered a radio built into the wall above my bed; soon I was on Armed Forces Radio, listening to the Orioles game. I only heard a couple of innings, however, before the ladies arrived to pick me up for another cab ride, this time to the Club Broadway in Reykjavik.

The Broadway was smoky, loud and crowded, a place where people had no problem invading your personal space and putting their hands on you, which, as an American, I found very awkward. A live band was playing American music badly, and we soon found a few open seats at one of the long tables. I went to the bar and ordered a vodka and orange juice, which was made as an Old Grand Dad and orange juice. After much struggle to explain what I wanted, I settled for a gin and tonic.

When I got back to our table, I found myself seated next to a chatty Icelandic guy in his early twenty’s who considered himself a bit of an expert in things American.  He spent the next hour explaining to me that America had been infiltrated by a vast Ku Klux Klan conspiracy; he even showed me, by tearing apart his pack of Marlboro cigarettes, how they sent secret messages to each other using the colored circles on the inside flaps of the box. I listened politely before excusing myself to get another gin and tonic. After a few more hours of smoke, loud music and screaming at the person sitting right next to you, we headed back to the hotel, exhausted from our long day.

The next day we stayed close to the hotel, because we had a flight to catch. I did a little shopping at the hotel store, where I discovered, after finally figuring out how to convert kronur to dollars, that my cokes were costing me six dollars each. On the other hand, a nice wool scarf (which I still have) and a jar of caviar were dirt cheap. (I didn’t get the caviar because I was down to my last ten kronur, which didn’t buy anything. I still have it:

Finally, it was time to check out and head to the airport. Here’s my hotel tab and receipts from what little shopping I did:

And here are my souvenirs:

On the flight home, the ladies took the last two open seats and I got the “jump seat.” This is a fold-down seat located directly behind the cockpit. It wasn’t very comfortable, but I was happy to be on the plane at all. Another perk to being up front with the crew is that when we descending into O’Hare in Chicago, I was called into the cockpit. The pilot pointed out the window excitedly and said, “Loook. See-Ka-Go, See-Ka-Go!” As I peered curiously through the clouds, I began to see the entire city of Chicago, sitting on Lake Michigan and laid out before us. I thanked the captain for his thoughtfulness; it was a nice touch.

In Customs at O’Hare, I found the first American man and asked, “I’m from Baltimore. Have you heard about the World Series? What’s going on?” Gruffly, he said, “Yeah, I dink you guys won it.” And that was how I learned that the Orioles were World Champions. We got into Baltimore in time to see the buses from Philadelphia arrive at Memorial Stadium, where they were attacked by the throngs of fans who had been waiting all night. I was later told by coworkers that BWI had broadcast the end of the game on monitors around the terminal, and that when the last out was made, the concourses shook.

No matter. I had my memories of a very cool weekend in Ísland (take that however you want to), and I wouldn’t have traded it for the world, not even for the World Series.