A Special Trip to Pennsylvania
One of the obvious benefits of living and traveling full time in our home on wheels, Charlie, is that we always get to sleep in our own bed, cook in our own kitchen, relax in our own living room, watch our own TV(s), and shower in our own bathroom. But sometimes circumstances warrant that the distance is too far or the time is too short to travel as we would like. About this time is when Betsy and I get a little grumpy and realize we have to pack a suitcase and our toiletries, drive in our car and fly on a plane, and sleep in a strange bed. Ok, this time the bed wasn’t so strange but we definitely had to do the other stuff! But listen, we’re not complaining here. We are blessed to be able to travel and share in family milestones and events even while living out our dream of traveling and working our way around the country. So when the opportunity to combine two family events into one weekend became available we jumped right on it. The small price we had to pay was to purchase a flight from Houston to Philadelphia and rent a car. The reward was the chance to spend time with my dad on Father’s Day weekend and attend the pomp and circumstance surrounding the graduation of our niece, Lexi Kapusta, from Drexel University’s College of Engineering.
As always we tried to balance our flight times, and the costs associated with said flights, to minimize the impact to our current employer. But sometimes the best laid plans don’t work out. You see, when we booked our flights from Houston to Philadelphia we were working a schedule at Texas Lakeside RV Resort that allowed us five consecutive days off of work. (The 2 - 2 - 5 - 5 schedule we discussed in the past.) Shortly after we booked our flights, the workampers we were sharing time with at the RV park were moved to another park. This small change completely changed our work schedule and had us now scheduled to work for four of the five days we planned to be away. But thankfully the park owners (Doug and Dana) we work for were very flexible (and understanding) and assured us that they would cover any days we were away. Thanks guys! And as it turned out another couple started working at our park the week we were scheduled to be away and we were able to help train them before we hopped on our not-so-private jet plane. I shared all of that to tell you that after much anguish on our part, in the end everything worked out!
In our attempt to squeeze time away within our work schedule, what we did end up with was some not so friendly flight times. So with that being said, we headed out from Port Lavaca towards the Houston airport mid-afternoon on Wednesday. In order to minimize the impact of Houston rush hour traffic on our drive we decided to make a dinner stop at one of our favorite gluten-free friendly eating places, P.F. Chang’s, in Sugar Land, TX, just south of Houston. Oh yea, did I forget to mention that our not-so-perfect flight time was departing Houston at 11:40 pm, scheduled to arrive in Philadelphia at 4:00 am! You normally hear about red eye flights from California, but apparently we found one that leaves Houston. No biggie though. We had a relaxing dinner, let some of the rush hour traffic clear, were at the airport in plenty of time, and leisurely boarded our flight a couple of minutes late, but before midnight.
We enjoyed a smooth flight and caught a little sleep during the three hour flight to Philadelphia. (Of course we lost an hour while heading east across that little thing they call a time zone.) I’ve flown in and out of the Philadelphia Airport many, many times and I can tell you with certainty that 4:00 am is a pretty good time to land at the runway-challenged airport. After grabbing our bag we headed outside to catch a shuttle bus to Budget Rental Car. Betsy had snapped up a good deal on Priceline, so we are not loyal to one car rental company as I was when I traveled for Verizon. (Sorry National Car! I miss my Emerald Aisle jump in a car and go. Ah, memories!) Instead we found ourselves standing outside the airport a little before 5:00 am, waiting for a shuttle bus that never did arrive. Thank you Mr. Avis shuttle bus driver who picked up us, and a host of others, and dropped us off at the Budget lot. He shared with us that he has to do this quite often since the Budget shuttle driver is not known to be reliable. After a wait at the Budget counter, we loaded our bags into what appeared to be the Priceline-special car, and were on our way to my sister’s house in Phoenixville.
We arrived at Casa de Kapusta shortly before 6:00 am Thursday morning, just in time for a quick greeting before the Kapusta’s (Ceil, Kris and their son Lucas) headed out to meet their daughter, Lexi, for a celebratory breakfast with the President of Drexel University, Dr. John Fry. Betsy and I shared our hugs, hellos / good-byes, and then headed upstairs for some sleep before our day began. After sleeping for a couple of hours, we showered and restarted our day. We were off at 10:00 am to pick up my dad and head to the city for the College of Engineering graduation ceremonies at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts, a beautiful outdoor venue located in historic Fairmount Park. Fairmount Park is the largest municipal park in Philadelphia and covers 2,052 acres on both sides of the Schuylkill River. It was a clear, sunny day with temperatures, although warm for Philadelphia, that felt quite refreshing when compared to our recent temperatures in Texas. As we filed into the venue, along with the thousands of other ticketed guests, we realized that we had been reserved some of the best seats in the house, directly in the center and immediately behind the graduates. You see, Lexi had been chosen by her fellow graduates to speak at the ceremony representing the entire 750 students. And speak she did, with an eloquent talk on her five years at Drexel University (Bachelors and Masters degrees) and the challenges of being a female in the male-dominated world of Civil Engineering. While also speaking about being inspired by Kris’ aunt in Poland who was an early female engineer, in a world of male engineers. For us, the highlight of the ceremony was Lexi’s speech, but it all was quite enjoyable, and we loved being Lexi’s Aunt and Uncle.
After some photo ops around the city, including on the famous Philadelphia Art Museum Steps, we ended the day with a great Italian meal at Giorgio on Pine. The food was tasty and plentiful (Including a good selection of gluten free options. Thanks Lexi!) but not near as good as the conversation and company. We slept very well on Thursday night!
Friday was a new day, and we were up and refreshed for another round of activities. We helped the Kapustas with some errands and before we knew it the time had come to head back to the city for the combined commencement ceremonies for all of the colleges within Drexel University. Yes, we were headed to Citizens Bank Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies. After some brief tailgating in the parking lot, we headed in. This time our VIP tickets weren’t quite as important, but they did get us seats in the lower bowl, close to where all of the graduates would be filing into the stadium. As at most graduations there were many speakers on stage, congratulations to the graduates, and advice from people in colored robes.
But the highlight for Betsy and I on this night was the commencement speaker, M. Night Shyamalan. Shyamalan is an American film director and screenwriter known for making movies with contemporary, supernatural plots and twist endings. He was born in Mahé, India and raised in Penn Valley, Pennsylvania. He is also known for filming and setting his films, in and around Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he was raised. Ok, not your typical commencement speaker, but as fans of his films we looked forward to his message. And we were not disappointed. Although his speaking tone was soft, his message to the graduates was inspiring. After speaking of his own personal successes and failures, he left them with thoughts of the opportunities they have to change the world in which they live. Bravo Mr. Shyamalan!
With the official graduation stuff out of the way, Saturday was a day for the party for Lexi at the Kapusta house and a day to celebrate her accomplishments. Betsy and I spent the morning running errands and picking up food for the party. We had to chuckle a bit when it was on our list to pick up the cake and CUPCAKES from The Bakery House in Bryn Mawr, PA. ICED by Betsy has been closed for almost three years now but Betsy can’t get away from cupcakes! Everyone exhaled around 4:00 pm when guests began to arrive and everything went off without a hitch. About 60 guests stopped by to share in food and drink, and wish Lexi the best. It was definitely good to see and catch up with some family and friends we don’t get to interact with as often as we would like anymore. Yes, I’m talking about you, Rick and Karen, the entire Wampler family (Travis, Nicole, Aaron and Kylie!), the gang from Canard Dr. who put up with us living there for a while, and several long time family friends from Central PA. When Betsy and I went to bed, Lexi, some of her friends, and the stragglers from the neighborhood continued to chat and drink. Another good day came to an end.
Everyone was moving a step slow on Sunday morning. There was some clean up to perform, but not bad at all. Once we got ourselves moving we headed over to visit with my dad, who we had enjoyed seeing two of the last three days. Yep, it was Father’s Day and we wanted to let him know how much we appreciated him. We took him out for hot dogs (probably his most requested meal!) at Jake’s Wayback Burger and spent a nice afternoon with him. At 86 years old it’s great to still have him with us to talk to and share old stories with. Let’s all raise our chili dogs to many more years of the same Dad! Sunday evening you could see all of the energy had been drained from everyone and we struggled to sit around replaying the highlights of the weekend.
Monday morning came, Ceil headed back to work, Kris was working from the house, and Lexi was busy packing for her two and a half month backpacking trip through Europe. She was scheduled to leave the next day and we were quite impressed with her packing skills, as she fit everything in a single backpack for that length of time. Later that day Betsy and I repacked our suitcase that weighed in at 49.9 pounds for five days away from our home! After a summer of exploring Europe, including a visit with her grandma in Poland, Lexi will return in September to start her job with Turner Construction in Miami, FL. Yes, an exciting time for her! But her Tata (“Dad” in Polish) will certainly miss her and has probably already planned his first trip to Miami for a visit.
On Monday evening we headed back to the Philly Airport, but not before stopping at one of our favorite PA restaurants, Harvest Seasonal Grill & Wine Bar. With eight locations, including one in Delray Beach, FL and one in Moorestown, NJ, Harvest was born of a desire to create a dining experience that focused on sustainable, health-conscious, and locally-sourced cuisine. Music to our ears that all adds up to great food! (And as a bonus, we still had a gift card from when we lived in the area!) With our bellies happy, we hit no snags at the airport and were back in Houston by 10:00 pm. Yes, there was torrential rain when we got back to our car, but we do need the rain. Two and a half hours later we were back in our cozy little home, a little tired but satisfied that it was time and money well spent on a family milestone. Congrats Lexi! Safe travels and we can’t wait to visit you in your new Miami home!