Travel Tip for Canadians with no Zip Codes using credit cards and driving in the USA

If you are driving in the USA and try to prepay for gas at the pump, after giving your credit card and PIN, many machines next ask for your Zip Code. Since Canadians do not have Zip Codes, this presents a problem. I had thought the only solution was to go inside to the cashier and get pre-authorized for a guestimate amount. Usually, if you guess too high, the credit card will only charge for the gas used, but on at least one occasion, I had to return inside and have the excess returned to me in cash.

There is a solution and I owe a big thank you to the lovely cashier at the Chevron gas station just outside of Las Vegas. She said to type in the numbers in your postal code and add 0’s at the end to arrive at 5 numbers. My Toronto postal code is M8V 4B2, so I type in 84200 as my Zip Code. This works both inside and at the pump. Give it a try and save yourself a trip into the service station.

Departure from Plan #2

My two guiding principles on this journey are to only do things I want to do and not to over plan everything, as I am wont to do. I have tried my best for Europe, buying only a one-way ticket to Stockholm, a tour of the Baltics and the goal of getting to my ultimate destination, Paris, when I get there. No hotels, no dinner reservations, no prepaid train trips to quaint little French towns. I will do that when I get there and let the weather decide my destinations.

The USA road trip requires a bit more decisiveness. Scrapbook conventions, Blue Jays games and friends’ travel plans all have set dates. The Utah parks do not, but I want to get to many of them before peak park going season and booking the limited choices of hotels that were nearby seemed like a good idea. For months, I poured over maps and brochures of the Grand Circle-the Grand Canyon, the big 5 Utah parks, Mesa Verde in New Mexico- deciding which ones to visit and booking hotels in the nearby towns.

After Sedona, I had planned to drive to Williams, Arizona, near the Grand Canyon, spend two days exploring there, then drive to Zion National Park and partake in the many hikes available. I would then travel east to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, before heading north to Salt Lake City.

Alas, things did not work out as planned, Just before leaving Sedona, I learned that my dear uncle, Benjamin Goldstein, had passed away. He lived in Saskatoon, where I grew up, and had been an auditor for the Canada Revenue Agency before going to law school. He and my father practiced together for many years before Uncle Benny was appointed as a judge to the Provincial Court. I was going to the funeral in two days in Winnipeg.

I cancelled my Williams/Grand Canyon hotel and booked a flight to Winnipeg from Las Vegas, the most convenient and cheapest place from which I could depart. I changed the destination in the GPS to Las Vegas and headed west, trying to figure out when and where I could fit the Grand Canyon and Zion back into the itinerary. As I was mulling this dilemma over, I passed a sign saying the turn-off to the Grand Canyon was in 5 miles. Do I or don’t I? I would only be able to give it a few hours, but my other option was to arrive in Las Vegas at 4:00PM and sit in an airport hotel until bedtime. I took the turn.

An hour later I was at the entrance to the Grand Canyon National Park. A further hour later, I had parked my car and the Park’s shuttle had dropped me at the start of the Rim Walk. From there, I enjoyed a pleasant few hours meandering down the path, marveling at the views and reading the narrative plaques which described the Canyon’s history (2 billion years old) and the significance of its distinctive layers.

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It is not a photo of me, but the ones with me are not good. I am still struggling with the selfie and bemoaning my lack of a selfie stick.

The dash in and out of the Grand Canyon was also not the all encompassing Grand Canyon experience I had planned for, but it was the Grand Canyon nonetheless and the best I could do in the circumstances.

Dallas and Bathrooms

My last day in Dallas. While I had made huge leaps in finishing scrapbook pages, I had done not a whit of sightseeing unless I count the wrong turn to the University of Texas. I decided to do something touristy. I had previously visited the Texas School Book Depository Museum, where Lee Harvey Oswald fired the fateful shot that killed JFK, and wanted to see something else.

My hotel was in Arlington, about 30 minutes from downtown Dallas, so I decided to look for something nearby. Six Flags Amusement Park was just a few blocks away but since I hate roller coasters, it didn’t seem like a good option. I had driven by signs for The International Bowling Hall of Fame. I can bowl, badly, but hadn’t in years. I was skeptical, even though it had rave reviews on Trip Advisor and only charged $10 as an entry fee. Or, I could take a tour of the AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, for $32 plus tax and the $5.94 transaction fee. I felt like doing something that screamed “Dallas” and bowling just didn’t spring to mind, so I booked a ticket for the 10AM tour of the AT&T Stadium.

It looks like a giant spaceship from the Walmart parking lot across the way:

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Larry, our tour guide, greeted me and the other 29 people on the tour. This being Father’s Day, all the tours were sold out. Larry led us to our very plush, comfortable seats on the 50 yard line and regaled us with information about the history and architecture of the building. It was the largest NFL building in the world. It was the largest indoor stadium in the USA. This being Texas, it was the largest of a lot of things. It can hold about 80,000 for a football match and over 100,000 for basketball and concerts. It has standing room for 20,000. The Jumbotron is the height of a 7 story office building, the width of lots of semi-trailers and 115 feet from the ground. More people watch the Jumbotron than the actual game:

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We proceeded to the private suite of the owner, Jerry Jones. Very luxurious, with a dedicated elevator to his parking spot, and windows with shades that could be rolled down if he doesn’t want to face the 80,000 other people watching the game.

We walked around the private clubs where 6500 employees toil every game (12,000 for the 2011 Superbowl), producing everything from the most popular food (nachos) to Michelin quality food for those so inclined. There were play stations for the kids in case they were bored by the game and then, the unexpected, an art tour. The AT&T stadium houses one of the best collections of contemporary art in Dallas, no doubt for all the fans bored with the game and the play stations.

From art to sweat. We took a gigantic freight elevator deep underground to the locker rooms. There are 7: 4 for university teams, one for the visiting NFL team, one for the Dallas Cowboys and one for the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. The ladies locker room is painted bright pink:

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The Dallas Cowboys’ locker room looks similar:

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Aside from the lack of scantily clad full size photos of the Cowboys, the big difference between the Cowboys’ and the cheerleaders’ lockers is that the cheerleaders have lights inside their lockers to assist with their make-up. Both have plug-ins for their phones.

Now about the bathrooms. It was part of the tour-not seeing them (although we could use them), but the statistics. According to Larry, the standard male to female ratio for bathrooms in sporting venues is 60:40 for the men. But Jerry Jones’ daughter would have none of that; she insisted that the ratio be reversed: 60:40 for the ladies. Which makes the AT&T stadium fairly unique in the sporting world. Now, I didn’t press Larry on this, but I suspect Dallas is still behind the Seattle Mariners’ Safeco baseball stadium where I watched the Blue Jays win 2 out of 3 games in 2017. There are 4 bathroom types at Safeco: Men, Women, Family and Gender Neutral. No idea of the ratio. From my perspective, I prefer France where all the bathrooms are unisex. All genders wait equal time.

Thus ended my time in Dallas.

Scraphappy

I finally arrived in Dallas on Wednesday, June 13th, without further tire incidents. Dealership #3 did call to ask if I was satisfied with its service. I explained that the “check your tire pressure soon” message had returned the day after he fixed it and that dealership #4 had said dealership #3 had not put the pressure right or reset the computer. Dealership #3 said flat out that dealership #4 was wrong. “Why”, I asked, “did the message flash then?” He had no explanation but said he would get back to me. He hasn’t yet.

Driving to Dallas I passed yet another Mount Vernon, I cannot understand the lack of imagination when it comes to names. There are at least six towns named Mount Vernon in the USA (Ohio, Virginia, Texas, Illinois, Washington and New York), but the only one where George Washington lived is in Virginia. There’s a plethora of multiple cities with the same name in the USA. On this trip alone, I have passed Charlotte, Illinois, and Charlotte, Missouri , not to be confused with the Charlotte, North Carolina I stayed at a few months ago. I am not sure if this is an American thing; one would be hard pressed to find another Saskatoon or Toronto anywhere.

The pedestrian names continue into Dallas and Arlington. While the freeway is called George Bush Expressway, my hotel is on West Road to Six Flags, which leads to, unsurprisingly, the Six Flags Amusement Park. The directions to my Scrapbook Convention are equally pedantic. Take the Road to Six Flags, turn left on the AT&T Stadium road, (where the AT&T stadium is located), go to the I-30 Frontage street (the road fronting on the I-30), then turn right on Convention Center Drive to arrive at the Convention Center. What the street names lack in inspiration, they make up for in usefulness. No GPS needed here.

I am in Arlington for the Great American Scrapbook Convention. For those that do not know what that is, let me explain. Scrapbooking takes photographs and elevates their preservation into an art form. Scrapbookers do not take a bunch of photos, throw them in self-adhesive albums, maybe add the date and let them collect dust on the shelves. Rather, scrapbookers (or scrappers as we like to call ourselves), take photos, adhere them to colour co-ordinated papers (some plain, some with designs), journal the who, what, where, the feelings the photo generates and other memorable tidbits, insert fanciful titles and embellish the page with brads, stickers, paper flowers, stamped images and a host of other paraphernalia. A scrapbook page, or layout, can take anywhere from ten minutes to ten hours to create.

A whole industry is devoted to scrapbooking. Scrapbook.com is one of the largest sellers and if you click on Gallery, more than a million different scrapbook layouts may be viewed. YouTube also has scrapbooking videos; everything from layout ideas to tutorials on using different products. Amazon.com has thousands of scrapbooking materials for sale.

Back to the Convention This one is supposed to be one of the biggest. Like all scrapbook conventions, it has three components: a vendor fair, where over 50 exhibitors sell all things scrapbook-related, classes and a crop. Close to a 100 different classes are offered with such tantalizing titles as Classic Petunia Foldout Card Class, Disney Darlings, Simple Stamper Tricks, All About Adhesives and two I attended: Mixing Pattern Papers and Technique Tutorial. Crops are where the pages get made. Hundreds of scrappers sit at tables and create albums, cards and pages from early in the morning until late at night.

This is me at the crop. And now back to my scrapping.
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Rethinking the Road part of the Road Trip

For the third time in four days I am at a dealership getting my tires serviced. Actually fourth if I count the closed dealership the tow truck driver took me to on Saturday. Not 30 minutes out from Matteson, Illinois, the darn “check your tire pressure soon” light starts flashing. I just spent $1,000 getting new tires and now this.
With the help of the GPS on my phone, I locate the nearest dealership. It’s 20 miles back but I slowly make my way there. The service guy is very helpful. The tires don’t look flat because they are something called run flat which means they never look flat. That’s why the stupid computer warning cannot be disengaged;it’s the only way of knowing if a tire is flat. A few minutes later, he tells me he has fixed the problem (back tires were not inflated to proper pressure and the computer wasn’t reset). So back on the road I head.
Most of the way is on Interstate 57, which runs 500 miles from Chicago to Memphis . That’s the same distance as Saskatoon to Winnipeg and the drive is just as boring. No hills, few curves, lots of farms on either side of the freeway and shoulders littered with road kill (deer, rabbits, a fox,) and tons of rubber tires.
To break the monotony, I stop at Mount Vernon, looking forward to a tour of George Washington’s plantation. Unfortunately, that Mount Vernon is in Virginia and I am in Illinois.
11 hours of driving later (including the hour backtracking to the dealership), I am sitting outside a Comfort Inn near Little Rock, basking in the warmth of a humid Arkansas evening. Dinner was a rotisserie chicken and a surprisingly good tetra pack of Pinot Griogo, both from Walmart. I am just praying the computer in my car doesn’t light up with “check your tire pressure soon” tomorrow.

The Adventure Begins… sort of:

After much hemming and hawing, I finally decided that what I refer to as the first day of the rest of my life would begin with my road trip on Saturday, June 9th. I would enjoy a leisurely drive to Cleveland, spend Sunday at the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame and maybe the Botanical Garden before departing for Indianapolis. On Monday, I would tour the famed Indy speedway and the Motor Museum/Hall of Fame. I had even drafted the first entry for this blog in my mind…When I think of all the exotic, distant and exciting places I could begin my travels, Cleveland does not come to mind…..
I packed up my car, cleaned my condo, drove my son downtown, gave him a big hug good-bye and drove off……Exactly two blocks, when one of my tires hit a curb, followed by an loud whooshing sound that could mean nothing good. I looked back, but didn’t see anything untoward and the car was driving okay. Until I got on the Gardiner expressway when the annoying computer that is my nemesis went “ding” and a message started flashing “check tire pressure soon.”
I crept gingerly to a tire store some miles away. The manager came out, looked at my tire, saw the very ugly two inch gash in the rear passenger tire and rather gratuitously said “that does not look good.” I agreed. “No problem” he said, “we can change it in half an hour. But best that you get both back tires replaced. For balance,” he explained. That sounded sensible to me so I didn’t even question the $1,000 price tag.
Except 20 minutes later he came back and said that he needed the special, unique-to –my-car factory key to unlock the tires and mine was missing. Did I know where it was? I had no idea what he was talking about, except I knew this was not going to be a quick, but expensive fix.
3 hours later, my car had been towed to the only Toronto dealership open on Saturday that did service, just to be told they didn’t have the right size tire in stock. They were able to use a master factory key to unlock my tire and put on the spare, but only after I promised not to drive over 80 kilometers an hour. My eminently reasonable suggestion that they let me borrow the master key, go back to the tire store, have the tire store change the tires and return the key, was flatly rejected. Making it to Cleveland on Saturday was not to be.
So I spent the first two days of my trip back at my condo, waiting for another dealership to open on Monday. Cleveland was scratched from the itinerary, as was Indianapolis. I am due in Texas on Wednesday for a scrapbooking convention and it is a 22 hour drive. No time for dillydallying or sightseeing on route.
Monday morning came, I went to the dealership. Turns out I needed 3 new tires; another one had a gash in it from some unknown incident and there was a bulge in a third tire. The only good news was that it was only going to cost $1,000 for all 3 new tires.
By 11:30 I was on the road. No hiccups. At 8:00PM, I turned off the interstate and found a room in a Comfort Inn. The room has air conditioning, a TV and the bathroom has been recently tiled. There’s a large church outside, lots of shopping malls and tons of firework stores around. Other than that, everything is very non-descript I had to use Google Maps to figure out where I was. Matteson, Illinois, just on the other side of the Indiana border, about 30 miles from Chicago. I grabbed some KFC, opened a bottle of wine and thus ended the first day of my trip. When I think of all the exotic, distant and exciting places I could begin my travels, Matteson, does not come to mind…..

Why Travel?

After 33 years with the same employer, I retired. This was not an easy decision- my job was interesting, well paid and I worked with great people. I enjoyed being at the office most days. The six mile commute each way not so fun. Toronto’s horrid public transit system meant spending two hours every day on overcrowded streetcars, squished between passengers screeching on their cell phones and slurping coffee or listening to the beat, beat, beat of music blaring through earphones that failed to smother the music. I t was not my job which drove the decision to retire but the horrors of getting there.

 

Once I decided to call it quits, the next question was what I would do with the next part of my life. Sitting around my condo watching TV for the next few decades solved my traffic woes, but seemed like a recipe for atrophy. Finding another job was not financially necessary and seemed too much like, well, work. Volunteering would be worthwhile and sociable, but would still leave me spending long months in cold Canadian winters. After much indecision, I decided to indulge in my greatest passion – travel – for as long as I could physically be able to do it and enjoy it. No more shivering wrapped in parkas and mitts and scarfs waiting for the long overdue streetcar on cold, dark January mornings.

 

That goal of avoiding winters also created the next dilemma: where to settle. Somewhere hot and tropical was an easy choice. Dreams of a condo nestled on an endless beach, with vistas of endless turquoise waters and waves lapping at the sand danced through my head, but the question became where. Nowhere in Canada is warm enough. The Costa del Sol in Spain was an early contender, but horror stories of shoddy construction, high prices and development run rampant erased that as a destination. Florida is a perennial favorite with Canadians, but a trip to the grocery store where everyone looked to be over 80 convinced me I was too young for there. Panama, with its enticing programs for retirees had the requisite beaches, young population and good transportation systems, but every time I visited, I suspected I would feel too isolated from Europe and North America. Reluctantly, I concluded that Panama was a little too far for me.

 

After years of torturing myself with this question of where I would retire, it dawned on me that I did not need to pick a single place. Websites like Airbnb would allow me to try a place for a week or a month or however long I felt like it. Flights and trains could be booked on the internet on a whim. I travel light, so the idea of living out of a tiny suitcase didn’t phase me. Slowly, the idea of not settling in to a particular place seemed to be the perfect solution. I didn’t have to find my new home. I would try different places. Stay if I like; leave if I don’t. Just go and experience whatever interests me and avoid what doesn’t. My new mantra became travel without commitments.

 

Thus, I committed to traveling until I don’t want to anymore. Welcome to my journey.