I thought my traveling days were over, but I flew to Chicago to attend my Aunt Pauline’s funeral. It was a beautiful celebration of her life of 92 years. Also, as with most memorial services, it was a chance for family reunion, and meeting long lost friends and extended relatives from my childhood.
One doctor said I would have no trouble flying
that far. Another doctor said she thought I was crazy. I flew anyway. I made
reservations with Southwest Airlines for a round trip nonstop flight – which
meant five days in the Windy City. I checked the weather reports and packed for
hot, humid days. Bad idea. Since it was
so warm, air-conditioning worked full-blast. I forgot to pack extra scarves,
pashminas, and heavy sweaters to wear indoors. Also, Southwest no longer
provides blankets – or food
We stayed in a handicapped room in the Westin Hotel on Michigan Avenue. The hotel was located in two connected buildings. Our building was extremely cold. We had to call engineering to cut off the air conditioning. Didn’t help. I also ordered an extra blanket.
Before I left California, I ordered a power scooter from Howard Medical, which was waiting for me at the registration desk. The hotel was quite large and it was a long walk from the elevator to my room. I also brought a rolling walker with me to get around the hotel room. We paid extra to use the Concierge room for breakfast and pre-dinner appetizers. Since we were downtown, there were many restaurants within walking distance.
The next day (Thursday), Bill and I wandered around Michigan Ave at lunchtime. Did some shopping and ate at Starbucks. There was entertainment from local bands every Thursday at lunchtime right outside our hotel.
A dinner was planned in Chinatown for the out-of-town family. We had two tables (for 10), so those Chicago people who could fight the traffic joined us. We took an Uber SUV to the Lee Wing Wah Restaurant, where we were dropped off on the outside of the mall with the scooter in pieces. Bill had to reassemble the scooter. Luckily the restaurant was on the first floor. The food was delicious!
When we returned to our hotel, the valet suggested we order an accessible Uber to go to the funeral home. It was cheaper than the SUV, and we didn’t have to disassemble the scooter. I rode my scooter up the car’s ramp, the driver tied my scooter down, and away we went. When we got to the funeral home, another ramp was provided over the few steps into the building.
The memorial service was a beautiful tribute to my aunt. Her grandson, his wife and three of their oldest children provided the music.
Aunty Pauline would have been proud of them. So many people attended, that the staff had to provide extra chairs in the adjoining room. Afterwards everyone was invited to a post-funeral Chinese dinner at the beautiful New Furama Restaurant, equipped with an elevator.
Then the family gathered in my aunt’s condo for more food. and conversation.
My cousin James
took us back to our hotel for a short nap. I ate so much that day, all I could
eat for dinner was lobster bisque soup at the hotel’s Grille.
Got to Chapin school by 8:30 in the morning for grandparents day. Breakfast consisted of a quick mini-croissant and container of yogurt. I knew breakfast would be served at the School, but my blood sugar was low, so I had to have something to eat. After quickly wolfing down my food and meds, we were ready to taxi to the Upper Eastside.
It was a lovely, bright day, and we caught a cab to the school in record time. A staff-person was available to operate the outside lift for me and my wheelchair. I hand plenty of time to transfer to another elevator. We rode to floor one where the lunchroom and registration were located. Chapin School has six floors with an additional two by 2020. Lots of stairs and small elevators. We sat with our granddaughter in her math class where they were learning about fractions by adjusting cooking recipes. Then we transferred with the girls to gym class to watch them play whiﬄe softball.
In the evening, Bill and I enjoyed the musical, Tootsie,
which was held in the Marriott Marquis Theater. I saw the movie several
years ago, but this play
was better — a laugh a minute. The cast, the music and the stage settings were delightful.
has a special ramp for wheelchairs on the third floor and a section for
wheelchairs or hardback chairs.
We sat in chairs in the back orchestra section with other wheelchair people and their parties. Fortunately, no one sat in front of us. I asked for and received a hard booster seat as a foot rest because my legs didn’t reach the floor. All through our trip, we made friends with other Accessible Needs people and exchanged information.
May 3 Friday
Leisure wake up enabled us to eat breakfast buﬀet in the Concierge Lounge. The CL changed system since we last stayed in this
hotel. Instead of security personnel, we had a key to unlock the door.
After taking photos in Times Square, we strolled down to Rockefeller Center. It was crowded with tourists, but with my electric scooter, I got around easily.
It was a warm day, so we were able to “walk” to the August Wilson Theatre to meet Kevin and Alexandra to see the musical, Mean Girls.
The play was a lively version of the movie many years ago starring
Lindsey Lohan, but with talented young singers and dancers.
Hint: The theater was equipped with a special accessible entrance and an electric lift for wheelchairs. I sat in what I thought was an aisle seat, but they put another patron next to me sitting on a chair. Since I don’t like to sit next to strangers, I exchanged seats with Bill.
May 6, Monday
Our vacation ends. Time to return home. After a large breakfast in the Concierge Lounge, we packed and headed for the JFK Airport. We flew first class, compliments of son Kevin.
We had to wait for security to pat me down, since I wear a Dexcom. I cannot go through the Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT). In first class we had seats that convert into a flat beds. The food was delicious, but I was not very hungry and couldn’t eat the large portions of tender beef pot roast for lunch. The bathrooms seem to be cleaner, since it’s used by fewer passengers. I finished watching The Green Book, which I started on our flight east.
Woke up early to take a taxi to the ABC studio to see The View. Because I registered with 1iota, I was able to secure free Priority Tickets. There were two long lines at the entrance—one for Priority Ticket holders and one for wait list ticket holders. After standing in line for half an hour, we Priority people entered the building, past security guards, who searched our bags,
then we were seated at tables in the cafeteria to sign release papers in case we were given freebies. We walked to the studio, where lights and cameras filled the entire room.
Hint:ABC studio provides accessible accommodation for wheelchair audience. In fact, the tech suggested I sit in my wheelchair which was more comfortable than the regular chairs. TV requires people to sit close together so the audience looks larger. I sat in my wheelchair in the third row aisle next to Bill.
A warmup comedienne greeted us with jokes and questions about where we were from. As a coincidence, three couples were from Dublin—Ireland, Ohio, and California (me). Many people were from out of town. Since it was Abby Huntsman’s Birthday Celebration,
ABC provided a link to Moscow, Russia, where Abby’s father is Ambassador. Interviews included hot topics as well as well wishes for Abby’s Birthday. Whoopi, Joy Behar, Meghan McCain, Abby— who was very pregnant with twins, and Sunny Hostin, entered the stage.
During each commercial break, the hosts had their hair and makeup repaired, while conferring with their staﬀ people. At the end of the show, Sunny wheeled a table of cakes onto the stage.
I thought we were going to share some of the cannoli cakes, but
unfortunately the food was for the staﬀ and crew. Instead, each audience
member received a Google Hub.
I’m back to my blog about accessible travel after a recess to concentrate on my recent novel, Second Time Around. The book is available in paperback and eBook version from Amazon.com or Barnesandnoble.com. If you enjoy skiing in different countries, you’ll like this fictional winter sports loving family.
The last trip I took was close to home. I volunteered at the San Francisco Writers Conference over Presidents Weekend in February of 2019. I volunteered over the last four years, but this year the venue was in the Hyatt Regency Hotel at the Embarcadero — a huge, beautiful complicated hotel.
I reserved an accessible guest room for my husband and myself, requesting a roll-in shower. We had a large room with a king size bed on the 14th floor. I had planned to eat dinner at the many famous restaurants in the Embarcadero, and rented a motorized scooter. As it turned out, it rained every night with high winds. We never left the hotel until we returned home. We renewed our Hyatt membership and bought an offer to the Regency Club, which entitled us to breakfast buffet and dinner appetizers. The appetizers were enough to replace dinner.
Hyatt Regency Club
HINT: The scooter came in handy, because the hotel was so large. The conference section was equipped with escalators to move people in a hurry. Luckily I arrived a day before to learn the lay of the land. I printed out a floor map of the four conference floors locating where the elevators were. HINT: At this particular hotel, the conference level elevators were listed as Street Level, Atrium Level, Bay Level, and the guest room floors. Only certain elevators stopped on certain floors. The concierge is most helpful in directing you to which elevators to use. To get to the guest rooms you have to use your room key to protect against strangers on guest floors.
Catherine Coulter was a keynote speaker at the conference. She is holding an autographed copy of my latest novel, Second Time Around. She said she actually read it.
I took a trip to Chicago, my home town, to dedicate a memorial to my mother, who would have been 101 years old this year. The dedication took place at the Second Presbyterian Church of Chicago. Family members were invited to participate in the worship service in the beautiful 175 year old church.
Me and my son, Steve.
Be careful when climbing steps with a cane. I did a Cinderella by losing my shoe.
As a child, I never realized the quality of artwork within the architecture of the building. When I was about 4 years old, I was thrilled to be able to be a flower girl at my aunt’s wedding. I did not know what to expect. At the rehearsal, when the organ blared I got scared and ran to my mother, burying my head in her lap. Dr. William Clyde Howard gently took my hand and led me into the choir loft. He let me press the keys to make astounding music. Since then, I served as flower girl for many other aunts. Music also became a part of my life. Two generations later my granddaughter observed the same organ at the church.
Located on Michigan Avenue, in what is now termed the South Loop, construction of the church building began in 1872. The design of the building was based on English Gothic churches of the 15th and 16th centuries. Prominent members included Robert Todd Lincoln, George Pullman, George Armour, and Silas Cobb.
In March 1900, a devastating fire destroyed the interior of the church, but the stone wall survived intact. Architect Howard Van Doren Shaw, a member, was hired to redesign the new sanctuary in the Arts & Crafts style.
Our family was treated to a tour of the beautiful artwork in the sanctuary. During the worship service, we took part in the dedication of the renewal of the baptismal fount .
The sanctuary has been virtually unchanged since it was rebuilt in 1901, making it one of the largest and most intact Arts & Crafts interiors in the country.
Significant memorial windows added between 1901 and 1917 included nine by Lewis Tiffany Studios, and two important windows by Edward Burne-Jones. In 1917, the four-manual pipe organ was rebuilt by the Austin Organ Company, increasing it to 50 stops and 2,606 pipes.
Robert Todd Lincoln, son of President Abraham Lincoln, was appointed a trustee of the church in 1879, until he accepted a post as ambassador to the United Kingdom in 1889.
Thomas Wolfe once wrote “You Can’t Go Home Again,” but, you can peek into the past. While I was in St. Louis, Mo., I visited the house on Westminster Place, where my Leong (Song) grandparents and their family once lived. The house is located on a tree lined private street with limited access in St. Louis Historical District. After taking a few photos, I got up enough nerve to introduce myself to the current owner. I waited while my husband climbed the steps and rang the doorbell. The current owner/resident, Joseph E. Scoggin, Jr. opened the door and welcomed us in.
The last time I was inside the house I was three years old, so I only had a child’s vision of the house. I remembered the dual staircase and playing hide-and-seek with my aunties in the many bedrooms—some with adjoining baths. Once inside, the house seemed smaller than my childhood memory.
All the houses on the street are large mansion-style structures built in the late 19th and early 20th Century.
Joe Scoggin, a psychotherapist by profession is also a history buff. He enthralled us with a wealth of information. The tract of land was purchased and developed by Civil War General Joseph Scott Fullerton in 1882. The two-block street has since been known as Fullerton’s Westminster Place. Although the 1950’s resulted in deteriorated conditions in some of the houses, zoning laws restricting homes to two-family occupancy saved the neighborhood from obliteration. Today all the houses have been restored to its original authenticity. The neighborhood is now beautiful!
In 1974, Westminster Place became St. Louis’ third historic district. The Landmark Association described the neighborhood as an urban mixture of owners, renters, singles, marrieds, blacks, and whites.
The house across the street was once the home of T.S. Elliott. Author Tennessee Williams lived on that street. Actress Susan Sarandon rented one of the houses on Westminster Place while she was making a movie. As an author, I soaked in all the creative juices from previous residents of Westminster Place.
At the end of the street, the towering steeple of the Second Presbyterian Church of St. Louis overlooks the neighborhood. Hence, the name Westminster Place.
According to public records, my grandparents purchased the house in the early 1940’s. Since my widowed grandmother lived in her house until the late 1940’s, and Joe’s father purchased the house in the late 1950’s, we do not know who lived there in between the times.
Joe related his experiences growing up in racially segregated St. Louis. According to the Central High School Yearbook of 1933, my father was the only Chinese student to graduate that year. Joe indicated that black students were not allowed to attend Central, but were educated at an all-black school instead.
My grandparents were buried in the Chinese-only Valhalla Cemetery in St. Louis. The White Star Laundry which my grandfather founded was located in what is now the Busch Stadium parking lot – where most of “Hop Alley,” the Chinese section of St. Louis was located.
Bill and I traveled to St. Louis for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Big Tent Event. I was keynote speaker for the National Asian Presbyterian Council which preceded the conference, located in the beautiful campus of Washington University. It was strange seeing the campus without crowds of students—but it was summer break.
The campus was too expansive to traverse with my walker. It had been many years since I was a college coed. I forgot how much walking was involved. I was so tired I had to deliver my presentation sitting on my walker. I should have rented a power scooter. Power scooters are available for rent in most major cities. Vendors will even deliver it to your hotel.
On our way to the airport we were able to visit tourist sites in the city of St. Louis.
Missouri History Museum Library & Research Center
We stopped by the Research Center to look up information on my Leong ancestors. Scanned actual high school yearbooks and archived newspaper articles. Discovered that my father was the only Chinese student who graduated from Central High in 1937, and my grandfather was born in San Diego, CA–not China.
Our boat arrived in Mannheim, Germany at 9:30 a.m. After a hasty breakfast, we disembarked for a 5 hour leisure excursion of Heidelberg old town. The Viking shuttle bus drove us from Mannheim to Heidelberg, while the ship cast off for Speyer, Germany.
Mannheim to Heidelberg, Germany
I sat on my walker in the shade and visited with other passengers from my tour group, while Bill climbed into the castle tower with the others and shot photos of the town below. Crowds of tourists were everywhere on the site–bumping into each other. Many of the visitors were from the U.S. or China. We walked from the castle to our waiting shuttle.
We boarded the busses and headed for the old town of Heidelburg, where I had to traverse hilly cobblestone paths using my walker. Bill kindly pushed me on my walker where the cobblestones were flatter, or on the paved street. We were escorted on a ten minute walk to the Church of the Holy Spirit.
In Germany, Protestant churches have a rooster on the steeple, whereas Catholic Churches have a cross.
The Church of the Holy Spirit was located in the old town center, with many stores and restaurants surrounding it—representing every country and culture in the world. I was able to find a pharmacy to buy some things I forgot to pack. I also bought a painting (print) of King Ludwig’s castle. After swatting bees away from my iced tea, we made the 15 minute trek to our shuttle bus. The day was extremely hot and humid, so as tired as I was, I welcomed the air-conditioned bus ride to the docks of Speyer.
We did not eat lunch in Heidelberg, so a buffet of sandwiches and sweets was available at 3:45 p.m. As hot and tired as I was, I made it to the ship’s Aquavit Terrace for refreshment to keep my blood sugar under control. My bowl of cold apple soup was refreshing. By the time I returned to my stateroom, all I could do was drop down on the sofa and fall asleep. Bill attended the daily briefing without me, and brought back a plate from the special Taste of Germany Buffet, consisting of several kinds of meats and sausages. I especially liked the German potato salad, and of course, the large German pretzels.