Brian J. Underwhelms Himself On Vacation

You might not have noticed, gentle reader, that I was on vacation last week as I spent a little of my time on the normal twee postings here, albeit at a slightly reduced rate. Which might have left the larcenous corners of the Internet wondering, is he on vacation, leaving Nogglestead in the hands of an armed pet sitter or is he just not feeling it this week? Fortunately, this confusion served its purpose, and Nogglestead’s vast libraries remained unplundered and unburned by Vikings.

For a second year in a row, we called off a trip to Miami because of travel uncertainty and instead booked a week in a resort in De Soto (also sometimes spelled, confusingly on government signage as Desoto even though the man’s name was clearly two words), Missouri. Which is in Jefferson County and not far out of of St. Louis. So, basically, about 20 miles from where I lived in the trailer park and 20 miles from where I lived down the gravel road. When I lived out there, I was unvehicled until after college, so I did not get out to that part of the county except a couple of times for a sleepover with Jimmy T., whose father had moved from the trailer park to a new development outside of Festus. Later, after college, when I lived down the gravel road for another six months, my driving, working, and social life generally took me to St. Louis, not other parts of Jefferson County. So I was only familiar with the area in name only.

Gentle reader, I did not set myself up to have the most enjoyable vacation.

First, a word about the resort where we stayed: As you might know, my beautiful wife and I bought not one, but two fractional ownership packages about seven years ago (already?). This was not a property owned by either of our companies, but instead one owned/managed by Holiday Inn which we bought on one of the exchanges.

Now, we’ve stayed at some nice and new resorts that our fractional ownership companies, Bluegreen Vacations and Hilton Garden Vacations, are building. Of course, the places we’ve stayed have tended to be newer, and they’re constantly constructing things on these properties as the growth and money flow for these operations tends to come from GROW GROW GROW SELL SELL SELL. But that tends to work out in having generally top-notch accommodations with nice amenities.

We’ve also gotten places on the exchanges that are clearly small-time, mom-and-pop “resorts” with one or a couple of buildings with lakefront access. Although they’re generally a little dated–they don’t remodel/refresh every couple of years–they’re clean and pleasant places to stay. As a matter of fact, there’s one up near Camdenton that we’ve booked a couple of times because they’ve taken good care of us.

But this place was something different: It was a resort developed with a lot of room to grow, but that growth never came. The resort has seven buildings, 72 units total, with an activity center that contained a movie theater, pool, ping pong, and air hockey tables, and a snack bar. The resort has a pool, tennis courts, a basketball court, a shuffleboard court, and a private lake. So it has things to do and whatnot, but.

But it was clear that someone in the past, perhaps not the Holiday Inn people, bought the property with the intent of more expansion. A gravel road goes around the private lake, so they had lots of room for other buildings. The paved road through the property falls into disrepair to the south of the buildings that are open; if you walk down it, you’ll find an abandoned…. what, office building? Additional gathering building? Then you’ll find a section of RV hookups, unused and overgrown. The maintenance shed and outbuildings are off in the distance. Around the curve and off the main drag as it were, an abandoned cottage stood ready for exurban explorers–probably a display building for similar units that were unsold and unbuilt.

So the state of unrealized dreams or at least expansion kind of dampened my mood. The resort had dammed a local creek to make the private lake, but a problem with the dam meant that the lake was underinflated, so the promised kayaks and canoes were unavailable. The resort itself was understaffed–the effects of the pandemic unemployment benefits, perhaps. I did some mental arithmetic, and I realized that the property could be running with only eight or ten people at any given moment–which is different from our visits to Bluegreen or Hilton properties seem to have a cast of thousands. But our other trips have generally been in the Before Times, so perhaps it’s the same everywhere. But they were trimming the hours for the pool and the activity center even as we were visiting.

The resort is out a bit, not in De Soto proper, so we were miles from things. I think a Dollar General was about a mile up the highway. Also, the resort entrance is at an uncontrolled intersection on Highway 67, where speeds exceed 70 miles an hour most of the time. It’s been a while since I’ve done a lot of that right turn onto a highway, going from a stop to 60 ASAP, so I faced it with some trepidation gentle reader. Does that mean I am done getting old and am squarely there now? I’d say “Debate in the comments,” but I am afraid of what your answer would be.

Also, resort aside, I did a poor plan with my vacation reading.

I did not bring the right books, gentle reader. I did not bring books that I was necessarily going to be excited to read. Which is important: As I might have mentioned, I generally don’t read books during the day in my regular life, saving it for the wind down part of the evening. Vacation provides me with an excuse to spend the day reading, sipping coffee, raspberry tea, or wine while looking at water. However, I just kind of grabbed books off of the shelf, a bit with the philosophy of “If I have these books, I will have to read them”–I have used this philosophy when staying overnight in hotels, which leads me to not reading the books. So I brought a couple of paperbacks along with a lot of non-fiction, including essentially an encyclopedia of disasters which I foolishly started my vacation reading. And Camus’ The First Man. Which would normally not daunt me, but The First Man is not a complete, polished novel, but the manuscript that Camus was working on when he died, so the text is full of scratch-outs, basically, and footnotes for alternate words or phrases he was considering. So not compelling reading. I think I made it ten pages in.

Normally, I supplement the books I bring along with gleanings from used book stores at our destination, but:

  1. De Soto has no used book stores;
  2. Festus has a used book store, but it’s closed on Sunday and Monday, the first full two days of our trip;
  3. St. Louis apparently only has five or six used book stores these days, most of which are in the northern reaches of the county (and, yes, being from northwestern Jefferson County and south St. Louis County for a time, I think of University City as “north”, especially since we’re coming from south of De Soto);
  4. And the only one in South City is closed because of Wuhan Flu until at least July.

Okay, no reinforcements forthcoming.

Also, for the first couple of days, I was kind of stuck at the resort, partially by choice. But let’s do a brief itinerary:

Arrived after a drive through the scenic Mark Twain National Forest; unpacked and went into De Soto for dinner at a pizzeria that took about an hour to get us our meal. It was good pizza, though, and they apologized by giving us a coupon for our next visit. Which we did not use.

I learned that, when making a right turn out of the resort, that if you can see a car in the right lane of the highway coming around the tree-lined curve, it’s probably too late to safely turn. Fortunately, the newer truck has a V-8 and managed to keep us alive as the car passed us safely. Hence my trepidation: seventy miles an hour, and to the south, a curve and trees that block vision.

Attended a late (10:45) service at a small Lutheran Church Missouri Synod church in De Soto. Realized, again, how much of a mega-church our home church is by Lutheran standards (although it’s slowly de-megafying as attendance drops, leaving a lot of space in a rather large building–although Grace Lutheran had similar spacing in a much smaller building). After, we went into Festus to get some lunch, only to find that the wait time was going to be an hour at the brew pub, so we decided to go elsewhere. I missed a turn in Festus proper, so we ended up on a westbound highway. Which took us to Hillsboro, the county seat of Jefferson County.

I briefly worked in Hillsboro as a telemarketing fundraiser–my first job after college, actually, and only a brief stint of less than a month, or three weekends–which let me drive by a strip mall and say, “I used to work there.” One of the gags about St. Louis, or at maybe not a gag, was that I would often point out places that I worked in St. Louis while driving around–and given that I graduated with an English degree, I worked a lot of places as I climbed, quarter by quarter, up from a $4.60 an hour job to an eventual career. But we had never been to Hillsboro before–so perhaps now the collection of identifying where I worked is complete.

We ended up at a restaurant by the park that looks kind of like the place my grandmother would take us–and maybe that’s because a group of grandmothers were seated before us. It took over an hour for them to serve our meal here as well–the Superunemployment Benefits labor shortage again? The St. Louis area is a bit behind Springfield in its return to normalcy, it seems.

As we were almost to the house down the gravel road, I took the family by it. It looks the same as it did in 2016 which is a shame since now as then the main garage door was plywood after what looks to be a garage fire. So it’s not the kind of place or the kind of owners where you would replace, you know, a garage door.

My beautiful wife and I took a walk around the lake late in the afternoon. Well, most of the way around the lake; we went about a mile and half around the gravel road, past the abandoned cottage, but we were not sure where the road went–I had not looked at the resort map, and when I looked at my phone, the map looked like the road led to the highway outside of our resort. My wife was afraid of bug bites–we did not pack nor buy any insect repellent–so we turned around. As it happens, we were mere turn and a couple hundred yards from the main road through the resort, but it was darkening. But we got in a little extra exercise.

We then returned to the resort and read.

The day promised rain, so the family did not go to Six Flags to sample their roller coasters. My beautiful wife ventured out to get her nails done for the first time in sixteen months (a substandard job, time has proven), so we stayed on property. I read about disease and disaster a bit, and the boys and I went to the activity center for lunch, and they played some air hockey. We then spent the rest of the day in the room reading–although the boys got the opportunity to spend the day reading.

We spent the day in the room reading, but we did go to the pool to swim a bit.

The family went to Six Flags. I started the day by running the loop around the lake, the only exercise I got all week aside from sprints in the pool with the boys, and read in the room. I went for dinner at the snack bar. To be honest, I was starting to go a bit stir crazy on vacation. I mean, if I wanted to feel stuck inside four walls with a swimming pool, I could have stayed home where I would have better books to choose from and chores to fill my time.

We went into St. Louis. Well, south county for the most part. I put some flowers on my mother’s grave. We drove by our house in Old Trees–the current owners still have the lilies I planted and have replaced the cherry tree in the front yard with more lilies. They’ve added a fence and put the standing swing back on the front porch where it belongs (realtors had moved it to the back yard while staging the house). We stopped at a couple of book stores in Old Trees which is very maskappy even now. You know, I think of the house at Old Trees as the only one I kind of miss, but I don’t think I would have enjoyed living there the last five years.

We also had dinner at our favorite Italian restaurant in South County which was still in the same place–mercifully after a dozen years–and it did not take an hour to get our food. Although my oldest son was not clear what came on seafood pasta; he got it, pulled a face, and picked all of the seafood from it.

And then we read, but I was happier to do so as I had my reinforcements, although the books were all bought new and were suitably expensive.

We stayed on property, but I was emperkened up. We went fishing using leftover seafood as bait; however, Friday was the sunniest day of the week, and we went late, so we didn’t get a bite. To be honest, we have never gotten a bite when I take my boys fishing. Perhaps we should go earlier, you know, when the fish are feeding and not in the bright of mid day when they are not. But then I might have to touch an icky fish.

We also played tennis for a bit in the heat, but then went to swim. We had some dinner, packed up, and read.

And on Saturday we came home via a different route that was supposed to be faster, but a traffic accident gave us the chance to explore the eastern part of Greene County as we routed around it. And when we got home, we had some maladventures to chronicle later.

At any rate, not every vacation and trip really, what, sings? Astonishes? Pleases? This one was kind of meh, but you cannot say “meh” without first saying “me.” I should remember to pack books I am excited to read when I travel, and if the family is going to an amusement park, I should consider bringing a DVD or two.

Ah, well. I have a couple of weekends away coming up this summer, so I have a chance to do better then.

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