Thursday, July 21, 2011

Wine Traveler’s Travels Part 1

Wine Traveler’s Travels Part 1 (From my archives)
27 AUG 2000

This is the first installment of my travels and escapades as I discover America one city at a time. 
First a little history, I am a forty-year-old man going on twenty-five.  I work for a medical monitoring company teaching other nurses and health professionals how to use the medical software developed by my company.  I love to discover the uniqueness of the city I am visiting, and I hope to chronicle it here so I can recall it when my memories fail me.  I won’t bore you with the details of my job just the fringe benefits of all the travel it entails. 
             I flew out of SeaTac airport at 6:05 am (the only time to try to get to SeaTac airport from North of Seattle if you wish to avoid the traffic and to get a Boeing 757) Tuesday Morning the last week of August on TWA.  I was pleased to have the free corporate upgrade to First Class.  The movie was Center Stage, one I hadn’t seen yet.  The breakfast that was served was exceptionally good the vegetable quiche was quite tasty with a surprisingly flaky crust.  The ham slices (much like Canadian bacon) that accompanied the quiche were also very tasty. Then there was the one hour layover in St. Louis, made bearable by the First Class ticket granting me access to the Ambassadors Club.  The hour and a half flight from St. Louis to Pittsburgh was on a DC9 I was surprised that First Class here only offered pretzels, but the Bailey’s Irish Cream and Kahlua on the rocks made it a pleasant flight. 
            From the Airport to Wheeling West Virginia I drove my rented Pontiac Grand Am, the 2000 model was a vast improvement over the last one I had driven not only was the styling a bit more sporty but it actually had some get up and go.  Entering Wheeling I was not prepared for the appearance, while I noted another fairly large hospital, the rest of the town looked quite ramshackled.   I met some of my coworkers at the Hampton Inn where we were to stay we then headed out to look for a good place to eat.  Brent, the installer, had been here before and recommended the River City AleHouse.  So off we set through some very seedy areas of town till we came to a couple of buildings that had obviously been recently renovated.  One being the Wheeling Visitor and Transportation Center (a parking garage and Bus Terminal) and the River City Artisan Center which also housed the AleHouse.  Entering the building, it was apparent that some real talent had been engaged in this renovation project.  The interior gave the impression of two three-storied buildings that had been connected by stairs and bridgeways, the opening between them covered by a glass roof.  We were seated in the non-smoking section (it’s times like this that I really miss the West Coast) The service was exemplary and the food was ample and well prepared.  Our server started by bringing us some fresh focacia style bread and introducing herself. Then took our order Brent ordered the House Stout, which fortunately was the only local brew available at this time, I followed suit, Vicki ordered ice tea.  The Stout was like Chocolate syrup and the head was thick and creamy.  The taste was ample without being overpowering with a slight bite but no bitterness.  We then surveyed the very eclectic menu.  Brent ordered the Filet on Toast, Vicki the Philly Cheese Steak and I the Portabello Mushroom Pizza.  The Filet on Toast was medallions of Filet Mignon on Texas toast with grilled onions and Cheese, served with Brewery Fries (seasoned steak fries); I heard no complaints from Brent.  The Philly Cheese Steak was an ample version of this famous staple, also served with Brewery Fries; Vicki’s only complaint was she couldn’t eat it all.  The Pizza was a healthy twelve-inch crust with pesto sauce, portabello mushroom slices, red Onion, green pepper, and three cheeses.  I have been known to eat most of a large delivery pizza I could not finish this one.  We had to skip desert. 
            The next day work finished early for Vicki and I so we went exploring.  Our first goal was lunch; the staff at the hospital recommended we head towards the Mall about 8 miles away and the Mehlman Cafeteria received their highest recommendation.  After looking in the mall and wishing to try something local we left in search of Mehlmans, we were not disappointed.  It was your typical cafeteria or Buffeteria style, only better.  The food was all made from scratch, Vicki and had similar tastes this time we both chose the Egg Custard, the Prime Rib and a baked potato.   I think the Egg Custard was my favorite though nothing went to waste.  The ice tea was fresh brewed; this Florida boy won’t touch instant.  
After Lunch we went in search of the park that some of the staff had mentioned.  We went west of the Hotel on US 40.  We saw some wonderful old colonial style homes and one that had a Frank Lloyd Wright with an Oriental twist look.  And we found a wonderful park that had a golf course, miniature golf as well as standard park amenities.  Vicki marveled at the old cemeteries we passed and the unique headstones.  When we again spoke with the staff they told us we saw the small park and that even more impressive homes where over towards Oglebay Park which had two golf courses. 
That night we went back over by the mall to search out new tastes for dinner, we settled on the West Texas Roadhouse.  This is one of those places where you get a bucket of peanuts and the floor is covered in shells.  I ordered a Red Wolf draft which came in a large frosty 34-ounce mug, there were ice crystals floating in the top of the beer.  This is the way beer was meant to be served, I don’t recall what Brent or Vicki ordered (must have been the beer) I had a Prime Rib sandwich on Texas toast with fries (that looked and tasted very similar to the brewery fries from the AleHouse).
Vicki and I wondered what industries had once made this area so prosperous.  My last night in town I found out; I returned to the River City AleHouse to try more of their menu. I was there early enough to visit the Artisan center, which included a tour of the history of Wheeling.  Being on the Ohio River and situated as the gateway from East to West.  Some of the first settlers were brewery types, relatives of the brewery people brought other industries Glass making, Steel, and Tobacco were among these industries.  Wheeling was most famous for its production of Nails; they now have a Hockey team named the Wheeling Nailers.  Mail Pouch tobacco was packaged and shipped from Wheeling as well as Wheeling Stogies cigars.  The self-guided tour through this artisan center was uniquely displayed in a barrel where you could turn a wheel on one end to change the information displayed in a window in the barrel.  The National Highway, which was one of the first east to west thoroughfares, passed through Wheeling.  This visit I ordered the Spinach Wrap this was a very generous portion of grilled chicken with a spinach, rice and cheese mixture wrapped in a spinach tortilla; served with Brewery Fries I could only eat half of the wrap.  I also had another glass of their stout they make there.
We finished a day early and I was unable to get my flight changed so I stayed in Wheeling Thursday night then drove back to Pittsburgh to visit family I have there.  I called my aunt, Sister Gregory, at the convent to see if it was convenient for me to visit.  She welcomed me; I was also able to visit my great aunts Sisters Claver and Georgine.
Sister Gregory invited me to join her for lunch touring the Mother house of the Sisters of St. Francis of Milvale was the highlight of my trip the artwork here was breathtaking, the cathedral was humbling with the great vaulting ceiling and the stained glass windows.  Lunch was served buffet style and included a wonderful salad bar the entrees today were pancakes (both plain and blueberry) or tuna melt sandwich. There was fresh cantaloupe as well.  I had a salad and the tuna melt with a slice of the cantaloupe. Sister Gregory stepped up to the microphone in the lunchroom and introduced “the man” who was visiting.
After lunch we went to visit the “old Sisters” in the infirmary. Sister Georgine was still eating her lunch and Sister Claver had been brought into her room.  Sister Claver is in her nineties and was diagnosed with a brain tumor about two years ago and since it was painless she made the decision to have no intervention.  Sister Georgine is a few years younger but has been an insulin dependant diabetic for many years.  She is now hard of hearing and She told me about five times she can’t see; though, as I was leaving, she told me she liked the cartoon characters on my shirt.  I was wearing my denim shirt which has a large embroidered Bugs Bunny and While E. Coyote on the back. Sister Georgine recognized me right off sister Claver said she did but as her memory has been failing I wasn’t so sure.  Sister Georgine asked about my three boys and even remembered their names.  After this visit we went back to Sister Gregory’s office to call my Uncle Skip to see if he was open to a visit.  As we walked though the convent I was stopped many times by sisters welcoming me and thanking me for stopping by.  This is one place I would like to visit again.
Sister Gregory and I drove to my Uncle Skip’s house and visited with him and my Aunt Claire, Uncle Ray also stopped by.  While there we put in a call to my cousin Kathy who was at work.  It was wonderful to visit with my family.  Uncle Skip shared some old family photos of my Grand Father and Great Grand Father.  He also proudly displayed his new Z scale train he and Aunt Claire had made.  It was ingeniously mounted on a platform that resembled a toy drum, it was very christmasy.   After leaving their house I drove Sister Gregory to the auto body shop so she could pick up her car she had repaired.  Sister Gregory told me the story of why she has two hard hats in the back window of her car.  She was once told that putting a man’s hat in plain view would help to discourage attackers by giving the impression that a man was traveling with her.  So she figured a hard hat would go one better, not only was a man traveling with her but also he was a tough one.   Saying goodbye but not really wanting to leave I headed back to the airport. 
The flight home was very enjoyable, from Pittsburgh to St. Louis it was a similar DC9 like the one I arrived on, the same hour and a half flight; but the crew had such a sense of humor we were laughing the whole way.  This time we were served a beef wrap that tasted so fresh I would have thought they had made them on the plane with a three bean salad and Pepperidge Farms cookies with my favorite Bailey’s and Kahlua on the rocks. 
I spent the two-hour lay over in the Ambassadors Club writing this account. 
My flight from St. Louis to Seattle was most miserable as it was in a MD-80.  This is the worst Jet ever devised; the ride is always noisy because of the wind noise that penetrates the hull even in First Class.  They have no entertainment system and they take about 40 minutes longer, to make the same trip, than a 757 would.  So the trip is longer and there is no movie or music to help pass the time.  Thank goodness I didn’t have to ride in Coach this time as my knees touch the seat in front of me; MD-80’s are so cramped.  The crew was very attentive though, and the half sandwich (grilled chicken on a croissant) was acceptable. I will fill out yet another suggestion form ranting about the inadequacies of the MD-80.   
As I reread this first attempt to chronicle my travels it seems I focus a lot on eating but there was not much else to do in Wheeling. 

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